Bringing British Back
When the factory fell, the blame was passed back and forth between The National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF) and the High Street’s ever-increasing demand for cheap, quick clothing. The kind of fast fashion we are all guilty of buying. The type of clothing that we purchase without a thought for where it has come from and who has made it. I am guilty of it, just as much as the next person.
It’s simply the way that we have evolved; it is ingrained in our behaviour. Katharine Hamnett spoke at the Vogue Festival just days after the disaster, revealing the real extent of our taste for fast fashion, “The price for clothes may be low, but they are paid for with human lives”.
The High Street is littered with pieces costing less than a fiver, but how many of these items do we really need? When Elizabeth L. Cline, U.S author of ‘Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion’, found herself buying seven pairs of $7 shoes from Walmart, she found herself questioning where exactly were her clothes coming from, and why were they so cheap.
Since the end of the 20th century, garment production in the UK has become almost non-existent. ‘The Factory’ was established in 2010 and is one of the few garment factories located in the UK producing for the High Street, with most production now being outsourced to countries like China and India. Floor Manager at The Factory, Tracy Burke says people are beginning to realise the importance of manufacturing in the UK once more. Her team of over 50 workers have highly trained skill sets such as stitching, pattern cutting, finishing and pressing, all prized in this industry, and are needed in order for a revival.
The Factory is also home to The Stitching Academy, a collaboration between Fashion Enter and ASOS that helps jobseekers by teaching them how to sew, equipping them with skills for the future. The Factory holds morning and afternoon classes and hopes to help drive British manufacturing closer to the demand it faced last century.
While imports from other countries might be cheaper, the delay can be a long six-month wait from beginning to end. Tracy tells me that at the Factory the turnaround time is a lot quicker, “Overseas factories are working out of season, while we are working on this season. We can then get orders out in a few weeks”.
With the labour taking place in the UK, the Factory also source as many of their fabrics from Britain too. Most of The Factory’s work comes from ASOS, but they have also produced orders for River Island and on my visit, pieces were being stitched up for Marks & Spencer’s ‘Best of British’ range. The range is a three-year plan with the British Fashion Council (BFC) that hopes to see an increase of High Street brands following their lead.
So how easy is it to buy British? While higher end designers are known to produce in the UK, working out of their own studios, the High Street’s pressure to constantly pump out trends while keeping the price to a minimum poses a more difficult task. The selection may be limited but so far Mary Portas is on board, producing her Kinky Knickers line, ASOS have a ‘Made in England’ selection alongside the pieces created at The Factory. Sir Phillip Green is vowing to try to keep production of Topshop and Topman “nearer home”, and we will be seeing the launch of the M&S ‘Best of British’ in the coming months. The hope is that customers become more aware of where their clothes are coming from and the demand for Brit-made will in turn, create more supply.
By bringing the garment industry back to our home soil we can set the ethics and the industry standards. Yes, while products made here may cost more than the one’s produced overseas, they will come guilt free, and with the knowing that it was produced without the tax on human life. By producing in the UK, not only are we creating jobs and beautiful garments, we are creating something that we can all be proud of. A future.
Words & images by Ashleigh Kane