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Close-Up Preview: Q&A with Mark Henderson

This weekend’s Drapers interview will be with Mark Henderson, Gieves & Hawkes’ chairman and co-founder of makers network The New Craftsmen, where we’ll be discussing craft. Here we give you a sneak-peek of what to expect.

You’re a keen supporter of traditional craft skills, and established the Savile Row Bespoke Association in 2004 along with fellow tailors Anderson & Sheppard, Dege & Skinner and Henry Poole. Why did you decide to set-up theorganisation?
The impetus for that was that there are so many streets that are famous for things that they used to do, and I wanted to look to see if there was a real possibility of keeping bespoke tailoring on Savile Row. Lots of people have no idea that there is still bespoke tailoring done there, and in fact there are 100 working tailors there right now.

So I talked to a number of our [Gieves & Hawkes’] competitors and said should we set up some sort of association, and we resolved to keep some space for bespoke tailoring on Savile Row. Westminster council declared it a special planning area with the aim of keeping workshops in place. So I think there is 25,000 sq ft of combined workshops and tailoring areas. The second thing we decided on was training, and in 2007 we set up a pre-apprenticeship course with Newham College in East London and we’ve had more than 400 people through that. And of those about 50 have become apprentices. So I think it’s fair to say that the next generation is in place.

You established UK makers network The New Craftsmen just last year. Why did you decide to set up the network, and how is it helping to support craft in the fashion sector?
There are 100s’ of really talented makers all over the country and when I’m talking about craft and craftsmanship the people we are talking about are those who have really put in the 10,000 hours and honed a skill properly.

The trouble with the trade fairs is that they have very little space and they very often end up selling things at £39, £49, because the well-heeled don’t necessarily go to them.

We wanted to present them is a more considered way that people could browse and ultimately get something commissioned. Everything here is commissionable, and that’s the core of our business. We want to bring commissions to people that are hard to find.

How many craftsmen and women are you working with?
We have 51 that we work with. We’ve got 35 that we’re showing here and then there were a few that we showed at Christmas that we’re not necessarily showing again because we wanted to have a bit of a rotation.

Are traditional craft skills in the fashion sector under threat?
I don’t think they are. I think there was a time at the beginning of this century when they were under threat. However, when you look at someone like [Scottish knitwear firm] Johnstons of Elgin, you look at the weaving and textile businesses in Yorkshire, you look at the money that Prada has put into Church’s shoes and the whole Northampton area, you look at Mulberry and what they are doing with Bridgewater College and training and [the brand’s] pushes to make very expensive handbags rather than [just] quite expensive handbags, which is a bold move. You have Burberry putting money back into apprenticeships, and Mackintosh and so on. So funnily enough I don’t think they really are. My sense at the moment is that it’s all coming back with a vengeance.

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