We’ve had some great news stories coming out of the north of England over the last couple of weeks, from Burberry’s £50m investment in a new facility in Leeds to make its iconic trench coats to yesterday’s announcement that cotton spinning will return to Greater Manchester next year.
As a northerner born and bred, I’m always keen to champion anything that goes on outside of the M25 - but I think the next couple of years ‘oop north’ could be game-changing, particularly as new initiatives gather pace and young design talent coming out of universities and fashion colleges eschews the crippling living costs in London in favour of creative hubs outside of the capital.
Last week it was the official launch of the Leeds Fashion Initiative, a new programme driven by Leeds concept store Lambert’s Yard, alongside stakeholders and sponsors including Land Securities, Leeds City Council and Hainsworth & Sons. To celebrate, they held a fashion show inviting local models to strut their stuff in creations from homebred designers, as well as styles from more established names such as Christopher Raeburn, who is a big advocate of British fabrics such as that from Leeds mill Hainsworth & Sons.
I caught up with Adam Jagger, the former Ralph Lauren, Topman, Asos and Coggles buyer who left London to become retail director at startup Lambert’s Yard last year, who says one of the major ambitions of the project is retaining talent in Leeds, instead of losing out as people flock to London to get a job like he did 15 years ago.
He believes there’s a buzz about Leeds at the moment, which feels a lot like east London when he first arrived. One of the major advantages of the north is that rents can be a lot more affordable for designers working on shoestring budgets and you only have to look at the problems facing shared working spaces like The Trampery, the east London studio which was forced to close this summer after a 400% rent hike, to see why people are looking for other options.
The £97m Textiles Growth Programme, which invested in the English cotton spinning plant this week, is also aiming to create a boost for the area by creating or safeguarding 2,000 jobs in textile and clothing manufacturing concentrated around the traditional hubs of Greater Manchester, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Of course, there are already plenty of opportunities to work in fashion in the north of England, from retailers like Shop Direct and Matalan in Liverpool and Matalan, N Brown, Boohoo and Missguided in Manchester right through to the many textile mills scattered round Leeds and West Yorkshire, which create fabrics for the likes of Chanel, Hugo Boss and Prada but rarely shout about what they’re doing. But one of the problems job hunters often face outside of London is that, while there are great roles to be had in thriving companies, moving to a new role could mean a significant upheaval in terms of location as the industry is spread over a fairly large area.
These new initiatives, particularly as they seem to be following through the talk with action, could join up some of the dots to create a northern fashion powerhouse we can all be proud of.