It was black tie time again on May 21 when I attended the UK Fashion & Textile Awards at Tobacco Dock in east London, courtesy of my fellow son of Leeds, Simon Berwin.
On a table of menswear chums, it was impossible not to have a good time and my spirits were lifted even higher by the roster of winners.
As we report, there was an excellent showing of the creativity and manufacturing expertise of this country, with trophies heading to, among others, luxury scarf producer Alex Begg in Ayr, cashmere cloth specialist Joshua Ellis in Batley, West Yorkshire, and premium men’s accessories brand Drake’s, which sources primarily in the UK (and runs its own tie factory in London and shirt factory in Chard, Somerset).
It was particularly pleasing to see James Sugden, who spent three decades guiding Scottish weaver and knitter Johnstons of Elgin to success, receive an Outstanding Achievement accolade. A perfect gentleman, James is a textiles man through and through and I am happy to know that he is still very involved in the industry, not least since he acquired the specialist tweed producer Campbells of Beauly in Inverness-shire. And, for a Yorkshireman, he does wear a kilt well.
On the subject of the UK Fashion & Textile Association, I send my best wishes to the new chairman, Nigel Lugg of Prominent Europe, who has just taken over from the long-serving Peter Lucas. Having had an interesting year in 2010 attempting to direct the trade body myself, I know the difficulties Nigel faces. Like many trade associations, UKFT has a lot of demands from small businesses that want to grow and, relatively speaking, a frustratingly low engagement from larger concerns that could assist with the development of the sector’s profile.
Even in these busy and demanding times, I’d love to see more larger firms giving Nigel, UKFT chief executive John Miln and the team at Queen Square in Bloomsbury some practical support and backing to make sure the manufacturing (and importing) side of our industry is not overlooked by the usual concentration on retailing. The sad news this week of the threat to the Robert Noble mill in Peebles - producer of some gorgeous tweed cloths - is an unwelcome reminder that our textile manufacturers have to fight hard to compete globally.
The UKFT Awards provided a reminder of how hard The Princess Royal works for the sector. She has now racked up 30 years as president of the association and its predecessors. Her many visits to the premises of UKFT member firms are a real fillip to the workforce and, having interviewed Princess Anne in Buckingham Palace several years ago, I can confirm that her interest in the sector is genuine and passionate.
Elsewhere this week I was intrigued by a new marketing tack by Marks & Spencer that has seen it release “exclusive” sales figures to favoured journos. The Sunday Times carried a large piece in its general news pages last week revealing “plain gear lifts M&S”. Among the info was that more than 1.5 million items of Rosie for Autograph lingerie were sold last year and 450,000 items from David Gandy’s Autograph underwear range have been shifted since September. The celebrated suede skirt - does anyone else think it’s rather ugly? - moved 500 units in the first 24 hours of being on sale. I wonder who this plethora of stats is aimed at: consumers or City investors?
Finally, a reminder that the Drapers Footwear Awards dinner takes place at the Tower of London next week. To book your place call 020 3033 2267, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Drapersfootwearawards.com