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Kinky Knickers don't offer a blue print - but they do offer hope

Kinky Knickers have boosted one British factory, but, asks Catherine Neilan, can the model work elsewhere?

Discussions around the state of the industry often lead to a debate about one particular character within it – Mary Portas.

Love her or loathe her, she has been responsible for putting both retailing and manufacturing on the media map and today it has emerged that, as a result of her Channel 4 series Mary’s Bottom Line, one British factory has a more secure future.

Kinky Knickers, the brand Portas produced from a factory in Manchester and sold through Liberty, are now being ordered in droves, going into the likes of Asos, Marks & Spencer, Next and John Lewis. Some 85,000 units have been sold so far and the factory Headen & Quarmby is now readying itself to produce 400,000.

This is great news, and something that should be celebrated – particularly at Drapers, where we have been championing British manufacturing through the Save Our Skills campaign for some time.

But even Portas’ biggest fans admit that Kinky Knickers is a model that’s hard to replicate. The original C4 series – which attracted an average audience of 1.5m viewers throughout the three-part run – translated into the sale of 5,000 knickers. Not a massive conversion rate, particularly considering the strength of the wider lingerie market.

Admittedly orders are still coming through strong, but not every British-made product can rely on such great marketing, or expect to have the UK’s retail champion arguing their case in front of buyers from a major London department store.

And at £10-£15 each (£19.95 with shipping from some stores) we are not talking about mass market pants here. People are buying them at a premium, and that means only a certain segment of the consumer can be targeted. Great news for Headen & Quarmby, but certainly not a recipe for others to follow unless they want to compete for the same small set of shoppers.

What it does show, however, is that people can and do want to be trained up to manufacture clothing again. At a time of great unemployment, offering a lifeline in the form of training and a trade really is invaluable. This is not something that can or will happen overnight, but Kinky Knickers has shown that there are people out there willing and able to learn a trade.

As things stand, though, the finances do not stack up and, in lieu of a primetime series, it will take genuine investment – perhaps from the state, but more importantly from the industry itself – to get a real manufacturing industry off the ground.

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