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New brands hope to build their own British heritage 

The heritage market has become crowded, but that hasn’t deterred newly launched brands from seeking to identify themselves with British quality and provenance.

Women’s tailoring brand Matilda & Quinn and knitwear specialist Common Sons are among the newcomers for autumn 11, while menswear label Private White VC made the journey from online-only to bricks-and-mortar by opening its first store on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London in November.

While established British heritage brands such as Barbour and Aquascutum were born out of a practical response to environmental factors such as the weather, the ‘formula’ for emerging brands varies from combining British production skills with fabrics and prints, to reworking silhouettes from historic navy, army and workwear designs.

All are produced in the UK and authenticated with a ‘Made in Britain’ label. 

Crest of a wave

Such brands are in a favoured position now – riding a wave of Britishness in the wake of the royal wedding – but how will such positioning fare in the long term? And how limiting could their focus on UK production be to their development?

Brands including Matilda & Quinn, Common Sons and Pentland-owned men’s casualwear brand One True Saxon all operate on the basis that their products’ “timelessness” will afford them greater longevity.

Matilda & Quinn founder Sally Hartfield says her product positioning means the brand can “subtly adopt style and palette trends in a way that will not look dated”.

“There appears to be a shift where shoppers are keen to snap up cheaper season-specific pieces, but they are also buying timeless garments of a better quality that have a greater longevity,” says Hartfield.

Richard Robinson, managing director of One True Saxon, which launched its first Made in Britain line for autumn 11, says Britishness is less about a look and more about “supporting our own values” – and, of course, quality. It’s this sort of thinking that is beginning to transcend cyclical trends.

“Our motto is ‘Fashion is transient, style is timeless’. It’s not about reinventing the wheel,” he says.

Rather than being confined to the tweeds or outerwear that UK production is known for, close proximity to production means greater connection with the product throughout development, according to Hartfield.

“For labels starting out manufacturing in the UK, factories are receptive and accommodating,” she says.

“You’ve got better control in the UK. I’d much rather jump in a car and go to Wolverhampton than go to the Far East and cross our fingers.”

Daniel Harris, owner and founder of London Cloth Company, which operates a ‘micro mill’ in Hackney and has grown into a full-time business over the past year, has begun talks with a number of UK start-up labels, including Brighton jeans brand Fallow Denim, to create exclusive fabrics (see News, p4).

“We’re creating six types of cloth per season, but we make up custom samples for clients, [and also] colours and finishes,” says Harris.

While playing up British heritage through UK production is a good marketing story, it doesn’t necessarily equate to the craftsmanship and premium prices of some luxury heritage brands.

“Made in Britain is a unique selling point, but it’s not special enough for us to hike up our prices,” says Harris.

Sam Clapp, co-founder of Common Sons, which is developing fine-gauge knit T-shirts for spring 12, says making British quality more accessible will help sustain his brand. “It’s about getting the right price, provenance and a good look. The brand should be accessible,” he says.

While the appetite for heritage fashion in the UK may eventually wane, demand overseas for British heritage looks set to rise.

Brands including Common Sons – already considering international distribution – are eyeing export markets in the long term.

Clapp says: “Speaking to distributors in the US, there are a lot of markets abroad we could step into. The export market is strong.”

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