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Close-Up Preview: Q&A with East buying manager Vickie El-Rayyes

Drapers gives you an exclusive sneak peak of our Close-Up interview with East buying manager Vickie El-Rayyes, ahead of the full interview in this weekend’s edition

East produces 40% of its garments in India. What is the benefit of manufacturing there? There’s a handwriting of the product, that you just don’t GET elsewhere. I think a trained eye can see [the difference between] a Chinese product and an Indian product, you can usually tell straight away. That doesn’t mean it’s a lesser quality, I just think you get a different kind of feel.

Although to be fair there are so many developments in India now. Before it used to be about small quantities, but now there’s different parts of the country producing different garment types. So in parts of Bangladesh for example, it’s about huge business, huge volumes. We don’t really work that closely with those types of suppliers, we’re very much about trying to do small runs and individual pieces.

What sort of product do you source from India? We predominantly do wovens out of India and tend look at the natural fabrics; so cottons, silks, and lots of embroideries. With our Artisan range we do hand-block prints. So it’s very much craft, really utilising the skills that they have strengths in. And we really want to let that live for as long as possible, so we really work very closely with [Indian textiles brand] Anokhi to make sure we promote those skills.

You also manufacture 30% of your clothes in China, and more recently Europe. What do you source from those regions? We also source wovens from China, but it’s perhaps a slightly cleaner product. So we might do linen out of there, we do cotton as well, and some jersey. In Europe we produce jersey, and now we are slightly shifting some more of the wovens here for better reaction times.

What challenges are you facing in the countries in which you manufacturer? Labour issues. I just think the whole culture is changing. There are more jobs than there are workers in China. We have some suppliers that are working really closely with their employees now on motivational schemes to train them up and give them incentives to come back and stay. So for example one of our knitwear suppliers has put in quite rigorous training with some of their people so that they can see progress, which hopefully motivates them to come back. Before people were coming from the North of China down South to where all the factories are and then sending all of their money back home, but there’s different sorts of employment for them now. They can go and work in restaurants, or shops, because there is a huge boom in retail there. So the employee side of it is really quite worrying, and it’s sad because a lot of factories are going bust. In India there is a similar thing happening in that the younger generation aren’t as interested in the whole artisan, crafts and skills side.

Are you looking to increase your manufacturing in the UK? Definitely. At the moment we’re doing jersey, but it’s looking at other product areas where there might be opportunity.  I would love to try and support the UK. However, it needs to come back to our handwriting.

My aunty used to work in a factory in Cheshire. She worked there for 40 years and loved it, but it’s just gone now, it’s closed down. It’s really sad. If we don’t [support UK manufacturing] soon those skills will be gone.

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