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Manufacturer pushes button on East End revival

East End Manufacturing aims to resurrect London’s traditional ready-to-wear tailoring district and bolster British production.

A newly opened factory in London’s East End is hoping to woo high street names into manufacturing products domestically.

East End Manufacturing (EEM) has been in operation since October last year but held an official opening event in Bethnal Green last week (February 26), at which London mayor Boris Johnson made an appearance.

“London was once the workshop of the world, fuelling the city’s prosperity in the 19th century. While traditional industry has declined, manufacturing still plays an important role in our economy, employing more than 100,000 people and with great potential to grow,” the mayor said.

“I want to support dynamic entrepreneurs such as [EEM owner] Barry [Laden], who are proving in a globally competitive market that there is a growing demand for goods made here in London.”

The factory, which focuses on jersey cut, make and trim, is already producing garments for contemporary menswear brand Harry Stedman and Hotsquash, a womenswear brand sold through Debenhams. It also makes its own brand, Renee London, which sells into Asos, Topshop in Liverpool and selected indies.

There is now interest from other potential partners, including footwear brand Underground, which is about to launch a clothing line.

Liam Gallagher’s menswear brand Pretty Green is also in discussions with the factory.

A spokeswoman for Pretty Green says chief executive Richard Ralph - who visited the factory on the same day as Johnson - is keen to up the amount of its collection that is made in the UK and EEM could be the place to start.

“We are really keen to support UK businesses wherever possible,” she tells Drapers. “We are looking to find more places to manufacture things in the UK. Ideally we’d like to have the whole collection made here. This is just one of the factories we are looking at but we are in talks about what might be possible.”

Owner Barry Laden, whose grandparents were tailors and clothing factory workers in the early 20th century, says EEM will soon be producing around 1,000 garments each week, around half of the factory’s capacity.

“There are some things we will never be able to compete on - jeans for example - but with certain products we can compete on price and quality as well as making things quickly,” says Laden. “I’m already looking for the next premises in the East End so we can expand and look after a range of brands from smaller designers through to the high street.”

Provenance is something Laden believes has become ever more central to people’s buying ethos, highlighting the horse meat scandal and a recent factory fire in Bangladesh as proof that both staff conditions and sourcing transparency are vital.

“Consumers are much more aware of where the products they buy are made and people want to buy British, whether it’s clothes or meat,” he says.

Speed is also a key selling point for EEM, which can produce items in a week - although turnaround can go up to three weeks if the factory is busy.

Laden is brimming with enthusiasm for the factory and is already considering branching into other garment types, including wovens, when he is able to bring in new staff.

Finding skilled workers has been “challenging”, however, with Laden admitting he has “been through quite a few people to get the right mix”.

At present there are 10 members of staff - six machinists, a presser, a cutter, a supervisor and one general role - but Laden is looking to bring more people in to get the factory up to its 2,000 garments-per-week capacity.

At the moment, EEM can only take on skilled workers, but further down the line Laden says he is keen to bring on apprentices, noting that “training is the key” to developing a skilled - and loyal - workforce. He is also proposing to offer his staff an equity stake in the business in a few years’ time.

“I’d like our staff to grow with us,” he says. “We want a skilled workforce that we have trained ourselves, with people who want to stay with us.”

Laden - who previously ran Brixton nightclub The Fridge and currently also runs fashion indie The Laden Showroom on east London’s Brick Lane - is confident he can attract some of the big name multiples to his factory and is eyeing up new premises that will see capacity climb to 6,000 garments a week. But he insists he will continue to supply the smaller brands even if he receives larger orders.

“I don’t want to be dependent on one brand - I’ve learned from my previous business not to put all my eggs in one basket. With all new clients we will start with sampling and take it from there. That’s the next stage, and it’s really exciting.”

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