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Making UK manufacturing work

The third edition of Meet the Manufacturer on May 25 and 26 was buzzing with buyers, brands and designers keen to find new ways to source from the UK, discover new partners and discuss potential collaborations.

Meet the Manufacturer

Meet the Manufacturer

Meet the Manufacturer

Although it is clear the industry faces its challenges, underlined by the demise of Blackburn-based outerwear supplier Cookson & Clegg, and Derbyshire suppliers CUK Clothing and Courtaulds Brands, which collapsed into administration on May 25, there was much discussion on the exhibition floor about new opportunities.

Kate Hills, founder and chief executive of Make It British, who organised the event at the Old Truman Brewery in east London, praises the growing interest in UK manufacturing, adding: “There’s an air of confidence in the industry at the moment – made in Britain is definitely back in fashion.”

Drapers was there to find out how companies are making UK manufacturing work for them.

Brendan McCormack, managing director, English Fine Cottons

english fine cottons

Brendan McCormack, managing director, English Fine Cottons

“If you can make cotton in the UK, you can make anything”

In July, English Fine Cottons will produce the first batch of cotton in Greater Manchester since the last mills closed in the 1980s. Managing director Brendan McCormack says the company has registered the name Britspun to make the point that the cotton is spun in the UK. It will have an initial capacity of 1,000 tonnes of yarn a year.

The firm, which is owned by automotive and technical textile company Culimeta-Savegard, was established to restore cotton spinning to the area in the refurbished Tower Mill in Dukinfield. It has invested £4.8m in technology, with a further £1m awarded by the N Brown RGF6 Textile Growth Programme.

“We are sourcing the best cotton lint and we’re able to supply small batches with short lead times,” explains McCormack. “We are creating opportunities for the industry to increase quality with a quicker response, smaller batches and just-in-time deliveries – we hope that the industry will look on us as a precious resource.”

Unmade Co-founder Hal Watts

Unmade co-founder Hal Watts

Unmade co-founder Hal Watts

Revising the supply chain

London-based knitwear technology start-up Unmade is aiming to shake up the retail supply chain with its software platform, which allows customers to personalise products on demand using existing knitting machinery.

The firm was launched by Royal College of Art graduates Hal Watts, Kirsty Emery and Ben Alun-Jones in 2013 and raised £2m in seed funding in June last year from investors, including Farfetch chief executive José Neves. The Unmade brand is a showcase for the potential of the technology, allowing customers to design knitwear on demand through its website.

The aim is for designers to be able to interface with the platform, while partner factories will work as a network to produce the garments in future. Unmade has tested production with a few UK factories and is working with some unnamed Italian factories as partners, Watts confirms: “We want to revise the supply chain to a point where companies don’t have to hold stock – they can just produce on demand.”

Watts believes there will be an opportunity to expand to jersey in the next couple of years, and eventually wants to offer full customisation of products.

Creating a factory brand

Dawson Denim began making workwear aprons from Japanese selvedge denim in Brighton in 2012, and expanded into jeans last year. The firm has built a cult following in Japan, as well as being stocked by retailers including Peggs & Sons in Brighton, Timothy Everest in Redchurch Street, London, and Hardy Amies on Savile Row.

“If we had gone on Dragons’ Den, they would have told us to make it offshore, as it is too expensive to make in the UK, but we knew we could eventually make jeans here, and there’s clearly a market,” says co-founder Kelly Dawson.

Starting from scratch

Tony O’Connor, former head of design at Marks & Spencer, is launching his own luxury menswear collection called Connor for spring 17. O’Connor, who was also creative director for Moss Bros and head of design at Next, has collaborated with premium British mills and UK manufacturers to develop the new range, which includes tailored suits, outerwear, knitwear, shoes and accessories, all made in the UK. Wholesale prices are yet to be confirmed.

Former M&S director Nayna McIntosh launches womenswear brand Hope

Hope spring 16

Former M&S director Nayna McIntosh launches womenswear brand Hope

Doing things differently

Former M&S director Nayna McIntosh launched her womenswear brand Hope last year, following a visit to Meet the Manufacturer in 2014. She developed the brand, which targets women over 40, with UK manufacturers including Johnstons of Elgin, Hall UK Manufacturing, Corgi, Skinwear Seamless Knitwear, Daas Trading and Fashion Enter.

McIntosh says using UK manufacturers has allowed her to introduce a new sizing system, overcome yarn and fabric minimum orders, have oversight of the products at all stages, and share ideas in order to work more effectively together.

Launching a label

Yarmouth Stores was founded in 1898, and supplies workwear and leisure clothing made at its Great Yarmouth factory, which employs 45 people. The company exports its Yarmo brand as a fashion label to Japan and will launch it as a menswear label at Jacket Required for spring 17, targeting premium independents.

Developing new ranges

London Tradition, the premium outerwear supplier based at Hackney Wick in east London, has developed a new raincoat collection to complement its existing range of duffel coats and peacoats. Prices start at £150 wholesale.

From Left: Mike Stoll, managing director, Cooper & Stollbrand, Jack Savva, owner, Staff Shoes, Sarah Watkinson-Yull, creative director, Yull, Nick Ashley, designer, Private White VC

Panel discussion

From left: Mike Stoll, managing director, Cooper & Stollbrand; Jack Savva, owner, Staff Shoes; Sarah Watkinson-Yull, creative director, Yull; Nick Ashley, designer, Private White VC

Does UK manufacturing have to be expensive?

Mike Stoll, managing director of Cooper & Stollbrand

“When I started my career at a factory in Manchester, we were making the cheapest raincoat going. It is completely down to volumes; if we are making enough we will become competitive.”

Nick Ashley, designer at Private White VC

“It also depends on how the products are made: if there is a lot of labour involved, it is more expensive, whereas if you have a lot of automation it can be cheaper, after the capital investment.”

Jack Savva, owner of Staffa Shoes

“The shoes I make are all handmade, so the better quality you have, the better the selling point. But if the volume was there for all of us, we could bring prices down. The volumes aren’t there at the moment.”


  • 60% of manufacturers say business is better than five years ago
  • 65% of manufacturers want to stay in the European Union*

*Poll by Meet the Manufacturer

  • There has been a 9% increase in UK textile manufacturers since 2011*

*UKFT industry analysis


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