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Memo from Musgrave: Put your money where your mouth is on Buy British Day

In case you didn’t know, Saturday October 3 is Buy British Day.

The initiative to raise awareness of all sorts of UK-made products had slipped under my radar until recently. How about yours? I wonder if that is the organiser’s fault or mine?

Regular readers of this column will be aware that I am a staunch supporter of the idea that we should make more in this country and that consumers should consider buying more of our domestic output.

My view stretches way beyond fashion to other consumer durables and on to food and drink. I am genuinely interested in where the stuff I buy comes from.

Others are too, judging by three discussion groups I have been involved with over the past few weeks. To kick off, Antony Wallis, founder of the Best of Britannia trade and consumer showcase – and organiser of Buy British Day – roped me in to join an eight-person discussion a couple of weeks ago on the feasibility of making more things here at home.

With active practitioners of British manufacturing such as Patrick Grant of luxury menswear brand E Tautz and Jermyn Street shirtmaker Emma Willis involved, it was a positive and realistic conversation about the potential and problems of making here.

There were more divergent views at a similar talk at Fashion SVP, the near-shore sourcing show at Olympia this week. Talking up the possibilities was the admirable Jenny Holloway, who employs around 80 people in her Fashion Enter social enterprise factory in Haringey, north London.

Providing some buckets of cold water – and arguing that UK textiles and clothing manufacturing is destined to be only a niche operation – were sourcing veteran Philip Worrall (ex-Hackett and Musto, among others) and Adrian Elliott, president of apparel and footwear at Coats, which was once one of the largest companies in the world, let alone the UK, but is now mainly a supplier of components for the global clothing trade.

I do wonder how much discussion of the potential for UK manufacturing goes on in big firms

Both of these free talks attracted an interested and engaged audience of 70-80 people, with an apparent bias towards start-ups and small concerns. I do wonder how much discussion of the potential for UK manufacturing goes on in big firms. I must note here, however, that Holloway stressed that she was able to get her production unit running efficiently only because of a significant commitment from online operator Asos. Well done them.

Domestic production was also one of the threads in a conversation about sustainability I enjoyed during a dinner organised by Harveen Gill of the search firm HGA Associates. One of the speakers was Tamsin Lejeune, founder of the Ethical Fashion Forum, a not-for-profit business-to-business organisation that has been banging the sustainability drum for more than 10 years.

The EFF claims to reach more than 200,000 people in 100 countries. On October 15 it is launching a new concept called Mysource, which it says “is going to do for sourcing what LinkedIn has done for recruitment”. If this sounds like your thing, find out more at www.mysource.io

Debenhams’ dilemma

Back on the reality high street, I have been intrigued by all the pressure on Michael Sharp, the CEO of Debenhams, and his chairman, Nigel Northridge. The general view is that the business is underperforming, is caught in a quagmire of near-constant discounting and that “something needs to be done”. Having Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley as a minority shareholder and vocal critic cannot help.

What is odd about all this criticism is that it is never linked with any recognisable alternative strategy. Debs is by far the UK’s largest department store group – with about 170 stores, it has almost three times more than House of Fraser and more than five times what John Lewis runs.

In an era when the UK is clearly overshopped, Debenhams has too many branches and it has some very able competitors. I am not saying the criticism is not justified, but I’d really like someone to tell me what can be done to reposition Debenhams, how long it would take, how much it would cost, what the chance of success actually is and which bunch of investors would support the process.

I don’t ask for much.

Readers' comments (2)

  • David Reay

    Great article Eric. It's refreshing to read someone who is forthright and challenges the subject. I returned from International adventures, and now live back in the North. I support the sector with my heart and my range of expertise. I have now grown tired of travelling to what can be best described as 'Talking shops'.
    The individuals you name, Patrick Grant, Emma Willis and Jenny Holloway are indivuals who actually do something about the challenges facing the UK sector and well done to them for taking time to spread the word.
    Let's see more support for people like this, there are many others too.
    I spent my whole life 'getting it done', I could do more, it's so frustrating.I see both the gaps and the opportunities. We need more folks fully and geniunely on board, yes that's you... big Brands and Retailers. If investors start believing it the support will flow I'm sure.

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  • As the previous comment stated an excellent and intelligent article. Let me state the following, HOLLOWAY has done an amazing job and does not get the credit she deserves. For many years she has battled to make the project succeed with little help given! The woman deserves some recognition by her piers!!!!!
    Sports Direct only discount and seem to make a very sizable profit but when it comes to their other business Regular Clothing they are not so good BUT WHO IS IN THE PRESENT CLIMATE!
    Has Debenhams got or will they be given the time for at least 4 months not to discount, would be an interesting adventure!! Let's not forget they have stores all over the Place in Europe, the Middle East etc so their distribution is pretty amazing.
    Go on have a go at "NO DISCOUNTS" for at least 3 months!

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