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Portas: retailers can put UK factories ‘back in the race’

Retail guru Mary Portas has called on major retailers to support domestic manufacturing by committing to buy a percentage of their stock from UK factories.

On the back of her new TV show,  Mary’s Bottom Line, which follows her efforts to reopen a mothballed factory in Middleton, Manchester, to make her Kinky Knickers branded underwear, Portas told Drapers she wanted retailers to support UK factories by buying British.

“I’d love the big retailers to say they are going to put a percentage in here – to take a percentage of their manufacture and bring it back to the UK. They can do that tomorrow  at the drop of a hat,” she said. “Do it while we still have an opportunity and put us back in the race.”

She reacted to critics who dismiss UK manufacturing as too small scale: “A lot of people think we’ll never get a significant volume manufactured in the UK, but I think we will. We will never be [high volume] but we can do luxury here. Some of the designers already do – Erdem was telling me he does – but we can do mid-market, brilliant, branded British products.”

Kinky Knickers retail for £10 a pair and are made using Nottingham stretch lace. The Middleton factory now employs seven previously unemployed local workers who have been trained to use the machines. Some of the UK’s high street chains have placed orders for the underwear amounting to more than 30,000 pairs, among them Marks & Spencer, Selfridges, Liberty and Boots.

Portas sees her venture as a starting point for a wider regeneration of UK manufacturing, an opportunity she describes as being limited to a 10-year window, after which the skilled workers who were made redundant when manufacturing moved to the Far East in the 1980s will be past retirement age.

Mary’s Bottom Line starts on March 15 on Channel 4.

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