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Great Britons provide reasons to be cheerful

The trade has been waiting for cold weather and it got what it wanted this week.

By Wednesday it was bitterly cold and I was pleased to give a run-out to my latest wardrobe acquisition, a double-breasted glen check overcoat from Marks & Spencer’s Best of British range. Using cloth woven in Abraham Moon & Sons’ mill near Leeds, it was made at Cheshire Bespoke in Crewe. Very handsome and cosy it is too.

Tony O’Connor, M&S head of design, gave me the lowdown on the retailer’s Best of British initiative as long ago as January when the high street favourite was showing as part of London Collections: Men. He’s a great evangelist for the cause of Made in the UK, as is Belinda Earl, M&S’s style director. My coat retails at £599, which isn’t cheap but does, to me, represent good value. While Best of British is only a small range in a few stores, M&S is to be applauded for taking what is presumably a substantial hit on margin to use British cloth and British manufacturers.

As ex-Daks design director Bruce Montgomery argues on page 12, other firms ought to follow M&S’s example and make an effort to make in Britain. Finding the makers is one of the biggest problems and hopefully things will become easier from this week with the relaunch of the manufacturing database compiled by the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT).

I take immodest pride in being responsible for setting up the Let’s Make it Here website in 2010 when I was running UKFT. The overhaul of the service, which is free to users and those manufacturers smart enough to get listed on it, is very welcome. Try it at Letsmakeithere.org. With UK (and Irish) manufacturing, the motto has to be “use it or lose it”.

To return to M&S, there was a reminder this week of the esteem in which the oft-criticised business is held by the great British public when it was named Fashion Retailer of the Year - Consumer Choice in our annual Drapers Awards, which were presented in front of 800-plus people on Thursday. M&S took top spot in our online survey of 2,000 consumers. All of those on the shortlist can be seen in the winners’ brochure in the centre of this issue.

If its success may have been a surprise given its loss of market share, there were few other surprises among the major categories. Primark took two of the big awards, namely Fashion Retail Business (over £125m turnover) and International Fashion Retailer of the Year. Asos was the judges’ choice for Fashion Pure-Play Etailer and River Island won the Fashion Marketing Campaign category.

Another deserving double winner was John Lewis, which swelled its trophy cabinet with a Best Store Design award for its Exeter store and top spot in the Department Store Business of the Year category. A beautiful entry, which oozed class and passion for the brand, helped the judges to name Hobbs as Fashion Retail Business of the Year (under £125m turnover).

Congratulations also to Seasalt, Simon Carter, John Smedley (a British manufacturer!) and Little Mistress for picking up the Menswear, Womenswear, Premium and Young Fashion Brand of the Year trophies respectively.

Little Mistress won the same category at the Drapers Independents Awards on November 7, having impressed a totally different set of judges. In a tight-run contest, CDI Studio just beat the other finalists to be named Fashion Supplier of the Year.

Emphasising that no success is achieved without inspirational people, we added the Fashion Retailing Personality of the Year award for 2013 and Peter Ruis is the worthy winner. Although he has been chief executive of Jigsaw since September, I suspect that John Lewis, where he was a huge influence for eight years until July, might claim this as their third award of the night.

It was a real pleasure for me to see Derek Lovelock, soon-to-be-outgoing chairman of Aurora Fashions, pick up his much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. When I broke the news of this to him a few weeks ago, he was very keen to stress that, despite racking up 42 years in the business and being due to move to non-executive work at Aurora from the spring, he was in no mood to retire. That’s the spirit that marks out the winners in this business.

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