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All systems go for east London's global fashion hub

Industry partnership Fashion District is developing a business cluster in east London. Drapers speaks with some of its key players about their ambition to revamp London into a global hub for fashion technology. 

Many fashion businesses can attest that links across the supply chain can end up weaker than hoped for. Fashion District plans to address this when it launches its east London business cluster in the autumn.

As emerging labels face increasing financial pressure, the aim is to help them to gain support from like-minded businesses around them, in a location that buyers can easily access.

The Fashion District collective informally comprises 13 organisations, including London College of Fashion (LCF) at the University of the Arts London, the British Fashion Council, UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), Westfield and affordable workspace provider The Trampery. It has five goals: connect fashion businesses across the supply chain; increase the availability of affordable workspace; support innovation and exploit technology; widen access to finance and investment; and develop fashion skills.

trampery london fields

trampery london fields

Source: Joshua Tucker

The Trampery aims to provide affordable studio space

It plans to work across the fashion and education sectors to boost “Made in Britain” product by forging a network of small and medium-sized fashion and technology innovation and design businesses, local manufacturers, colleges, schools, retailers and investors.

Charles Armstrong, chief executive of The Trampery, describes it as “a set of organisations at the top of their game in each particular slice of the cake”.

Discussions are under way about whether to formalise the collaboration, or certain aspects of it. It currently operates as working groups focusing on different projects across east London’s Poplar, Bow and Hackney Wick areas. They report into a steering group of senior figures from each organisation, which meets every quarter.

Tapping into talent

Russell Shine, owner of clothing manufacturer The Apparel Company in Leyton, says: “The industry needs an initiative like this. There is support for start-ups, but the practical problem is production. There’s huge production potential and a workforce, but it is being priced out by [increases in] rents and rates.

“There is a huge amount of talent out there but it’s now a point of them being able to execute and get those orders made. It’s like having loads of cars and no petrol stations. It needs to be a combination of everything and it’s desperately required.”

The project has been in the pipeline since LCF began in 2015 to consolidate its six London locations into a single site at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which will be the heart of the hub. It plans to complete the relocation by 2021.

Frances Corner, head of LCF, is leading the partnership. She says she wants to revive the area’s historic status as a centre for fashion innovation. LCF itself began as a network of trade schools teaching dressmaking, millinery and embroidery, starting with the Shoreditch Technical Institute Girls School in 1906.

London needs to act now to remain at the forefront of this opportunity

Frances Corner, LCF

Fashion businesses face an increasingly uphill journey, made steeper by rent and rate rises and rapid advances in technology, which is why, Corner says, London must support the industry.

“East London is already home to fashion-tech businesses that are challenging what fashion is and certainly the way in which it is designed, made and sold,” she says. “London needs to act now to remain at the forefront of this opportunity and to make sure that support for the industry as a whole, and these types of businesses, is prioritised.

“These can only achieve growth with significant support in skills, advocacy, innovation and investment, which the Fashion District intends to bring.”

Paul Brickell, executive director of regeneration and com­munity partnerships for the London Legacy Development Corporation, the planning authority for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and surrounding areas, says: “The opportunity here is to drive change.

“In a decade I hope the district will be a lively cluster, known to fashion, and a place for teaching and learning skills across the sector – design, manufacturing, retail, promotional marketing – as well as a great deal of business activity.”

So far the group’s projects have secured £2m funding from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund regeneration programme last month, which will leverage another £4m of non-public financing.

Some projects will kick off in the autumn, among them a programme to finance loans for small and medium-sized enterprises, and a skills and business development initiative called East Works: Fashion.

The first phase of The Trampery’s 58,000 sq ft Fish Island Village development in Hackney Wick will complete in October. It is touted to be Europe’s largest dedicated complex of fashion studios.

Fashioning poplar

Fashioning Poplar

Other initiatives include an extension of manufacturing and design scheme Fashioning Poplar, which will launch in spring 2019 and is led by housing association Poplar Harca. The association’s director of placemaking, Paul Augarde, says the area has a lot of sewing groups – signposting the amount of untapped talent that exists in the community – alongside high levels of unemployment.

He believes the industry’s accessibility for people with entry-level qualifications, alongside LCF graduates and those moving into the area with higher qualifications, will drive regeneration. The partnership aims to provide wider access to job opportunities across the sector.

“A young person growing up on an estate in Poplar who gets a job within Fashioning Poplar does not have to just sit within that part of the industry, but has opportunities to hone their skills and move to a [nearby] manufacturing unit, or train at LCF just up the road, or work within a retail school linked to the Fashion District,” Augarde says.

Mirroring the ambitions of the fashion firms it plans to support, the group hopes to expand its network beyond the intial project in the capital.

I hope east London will definitively be established as a focal point for the UK’s fashion industry

Charles Armstrong, The Trampery

Armstrong says: “I hope east London will definitively be established as a focal point for the UK’s fashion industry, not only in terms of connections within fashion [in London], but to manufacturers in West Yorkshire and Leicester, and to other companies internationally.

“Once we’ve got the experience of how we improve strategic connections between different elements of the industry at the scale of [the project in] east London, we can apply this same philosophy to gradually spreading out our network.”

London is already renowned as one of the fashion capitals of the world, and Fashion District’s goal of turning the East End into an innovation nucleus for the industry will elevate this further.

Fledgling labels will have a greater opportunity to flourish in an omnichannel market and have access to appropriate resources. With the backing of this industry collaboration, Made in Britain could reach new heights.

 

The Fashion District: participating organisations

London College of Fashion – University of the Arts London

Poplar Harca

London Legacy Development Corporation

Greater London Authority

British Fashion Council

UKFT

The Trampery

The London Fashion Fund

Westfield

Here East

Hackney Walk

Barclays

Newham College of Further Education

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