Four UK fabric manufacturers discuss the increase in demand for Made in Britain.
- Sales director at cashmere supplier and brand Johnstons of Elgin
Product diversification is on Johnstons of Elgin’s agenda as demand shifts from traditional woven single and double-faced cashmere to lightweight cashmere, worsted weaves and chunky knits.
At the same time, continued high demand for cashmere, coupled with international production issues over the past six months, have pushed prices to a point where more blends have been added to Johnstons’ offer.
This is where the middle market is compromising, sales director Oliver Platts says. The blends include cashmere with both lambswool and merino in 50/50 and 90/10 mixes.
The new autumn 14 collection includes a lightweight cashmere/silk stole for around £50 and a super-lightweight merino wrap for
The changing product trends have led Johnstons - whose business is split 75/25 between its supply and branded operations - to push its manufacturing into new areas.
As Platts explains: “Knits and lightweight cashmeres are here to stay. For the lightweight cashmeres we are using worsted yarns from Italy, but these lighter-weight yarns require different ways of finishing.
“We have been using UK hand-finishers on this product, but have also developed our own finishing processes - so much so that we are now offering finishing as a service to other mills.”
Johnstons is entering the spring 15 season in a strong position off the back of a 15% sales increase last year, and benefits from the renewed interest in and increased popularity of Made in Britain. Hermès and Mulberry have both name checked Johnstons in recent months.
Platts says: “Business is coming back. We’ve become more competitive in comparison to international suppliers as the cost of raw fibre has gone up, as have labour costs. Johnstons has the economies of scale that brands are looking for, plus the added value that UK manufacturing gives them.”
- Managing director of print specialist and mill Makower
Describing Makower’s product as “quirky British print,” Jane Makower says the Henley-on-Thames-based supplier is seeing renewed interest in two areas. The first is in export markets, as a result of the demand for British heritage brands, and the second is in the premium branded market.
The company’s traditional core business in the home sewing sector is also on the up - sales rose 20% in John Lewis stores as a result of last year’s BBC show Great British Sewing Bee, says Makower. It is also working with John Lewis on its 150-year anniversary range of clothing prints for spring 14.
The key to the business’s success is brands wanting to tell a story about British manufacturing, Makower believes - a story line that will be strengthened for spring 15, when the business starts producing printed cotton lawn fabrics in the UK.
The Made in Britain tag works for the brand’s export markets, including Scandinavia, Europe, Iceland and Australia, as well as for UK-based brands, Makower says. “A Made in Britain brand is an important part of building a reputation in China, and is increasingly important among premium-level brands,” she explains. “Our fabrics are too expensive for the mainstream high street working on minimum margins, but premium brands are now looking, because of the style.”
The vintage trend has been good for Makower. “We are not operating in a vacuum, so when pastels are in we do pastels. But we are about quality British print and beautiful florals.”
Recent orders have seen Makower fabrics sold to a Chinese kidswear supplier and an Australian shirt manufacturer. However, Makower declines to name names.
“Roughly 50% of our sales are now for export - that’s a very big deal for the business,” she says. “We’re on the cusp of something new and exciting.”
- Head of UK sales at men’s suits and suiting fabric manufacturer Dormeuil
It’s all about sustainable luxury for Anglo-French mill Dormeuil, which is headquartered in Paris and saw around 10% growth last year, despite the tough trading climate. Head of UK sales Patrick Bunting says: “People are still spending money but now it’s sustainable rather than disposable. Our business has grown through the recession and it’s the hyper-luxury end of the business that has seen the highest growth.”
With 80% of its collection made in the UK using super-fine worsted fibres from Australia, Dormeuil’s growth area is in branded ready-to-wear collections, complementing its globally renowned bespoke cloth offer.
“We are seeing more customers coming to us for ready-to-wear. Our strongest ready-to-wear markets are Japan, the US, Italy and the UK, plus UK-based clients exporting all over the world,” says Bunting. Dormeuil’s business has also been growing in India and China via international menswear brands and domestic manufacture, though he declines to name those customers.
Dormeuil has concentrated on bestsellers over the past few years, but as the market loosens up the business is going into spring 15 with some new ideas, Bunting says.
“The sector has been very cautious with safe design and muted collections, but now customers are looking for something new.”
The trend is towards more subtle patterning but with more colour, particularly in the blue palette, which is seeing an injection of indigo. Matt finishes are also included in the new range.
Bunting says the sector continues to be tough: “We’re working harder to retain our market share and even harder to bring in new clients. But we have a very broad offer and we commit heavily to the collections. Customers are looking for that kind of stability.”
- Sales director at silk distributor James Hare
With silk yarn prices up over the past seasons - they have increased from $24 (£14.55) a kilo five years ago to $51 (£31) now - James Hare has moved into a new world of silk-mix fabrics.
This is not being viewed negatively by the company, which began in 1865 as a woollens merchant in Leeds, where it is still based, but rather as a move that is opening up new markets. Sales director Saffron Hare says: “We don’t sit and relax. The trend in silks is towards silk mixes. This has made things more exciting because we have started to broaden our offer by creating different mixes.”
These new options include viscose and polyester blended with silk for crêpe-backed satins, duchess satins and dupions. Key colour trends for spring 15 are strongly focused on purple and lilac shades, while ivory bridal silks with a hint of colour are likely to grow.
Although the top end of the market is not deterred by price increases, the high street demands clever solutions. Hare says: “The price limits on the high street are proving a good thing because they have made us experiment and come up with different products. Consequently we have new customers and are supplying to clients from the high street to the catwalk.” The business also has a significant market in bridal fabrics and lace.
As part of its push into new markets such as Spain, Germany and Scandinavia, James Hare is putting greater emphasis on design and strengthened its clothing fabric offer by recruiting Vanessa Kay, who was previously a freelance designer, as fabric designer last autumn.
The company, which sources its silk from India, China, France and Italy, is also growing its export markets, which now account for some 45% of the business. Hare says this is partly because of its in-stock position with no minimum order on
And she is raring to go into the new season: “Business has not been bad at all, and we’re quite optimistic.”