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Obituary: Champion of manufacturing Gerald French

Gerald French, who helped bring together disparate trade bodies to form the British Clothing Industry Association in 1982, has died following heart problems. He was 85.

French spent more than 30 years in the sector’s trade associations, including the Clothing Export Council. He is remembered for helping the British Menswear Federation set up the IMBEX trade show, which was held in February each year.

The sale of this event to Blenheim in the mid-1980s gave a sizeable dowry to the BCIA, which has since been transformed into the UK Fashion & Textile Association.

A man whose quiet and modest demeanour hid a formidable intellect, French was highly skilled at negotiating with Westminster ministries and the European regulatory authorities, and assisting British firms to export across the globe.

For much of his career he was deputy to Matt Reid, the menswear federation’s director, but French was for a few years director-general of the BCIA, which gave a single voice to various parts of the manufacturing industry.

In 1985 he handed the reins to John Wilson, who directed BCIA and later UKFT until his retirement in 2010.

Keeping a promise he had made to himself, French retired when he was only 55 to live with his partner, Philip Reeves, in Somerset. There he remained active in the local church and in community matters, but occasionally admitted that he had probably retired too early.

UKFT chief executive John Miln said: “Gerald was undoubtedly a visionary for the co-ordination and consolidation of the industry at a time when the industry’s sectors were beginning a phase of rapid change. Much of what UKFT is today originates in and from Gerald’s contribution and we can only be grateful for his foresight.

“Our thoughts, and those of many of Gerald’s friends and colleagues with whom he worked and knew, are with Philip and his family at this sad time.”

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