The Made in Britain champion on brands, business and Brad Pitt.
Following a 20-year fashion career with jobs at Burberry, Marks & Spencer, Levi’s and Debenhams, Kate Hills created her website Make It British (makeitbritish.co.uk) in 2011 to celebrate brands that manufacture their products in the UK. In 2014, she launched the Meet the Manufacturer trade show and conference to further highlight the excellent products made by British manufacturers. The next edition takes place at London’s Old Truman Brewery on May 25-26.
How did you get into fashion?
After leaving Middlesex Polytechnic (now Middlesex University) with a degree in fashion design I set up Catweasle Recycled Clothing in a shop in Portobello Road. Everything was going well until a sales agent that we were using went into administration, which crippled our business. Sadly we folded and I went to work as a designer for Tammy Girl, followed by a stint in Italy designing accessories for Levi’s. The next 10 years were spent specialising in accessories, first at Burberry, then at Marks & Spencer. I’d always been good with numbers, so it was a natural progression for me to make the transition from designing to buying at M&S. My last job on the high street was as a buying manager for Debenhams.
Why did you set up Make It British?
Having spent the first 10 years of my career producing everything in the UK, by the time the 1990s came I saw that more and more was being sourced overseas. I was at M&S when many UK factories closed down. I started researching what was left of the UK textile industry and found plenty of great businesses quietly getting on with making here, but if we didn’t support them we would lose the skill of textile manufacturing in the UK forever. I set up Make It British to promote brands that are manufactured in the UK. The Meet the Manufacturer trade show and conference came about because I realised that there was a big disconnect between buyers and manufacturers in the UK. I wanted to bring them together and give manufacturers a better platform for finding new business.
Meet the Manufacturer trade show and conference
Who are the most innovative manufacturers working in the UK at the moment?
One ground-breaking business that I’m keeping my eye on is Unmade. It’s using 3D technology to bring mass-customisation to the knitwear market. Something else that’s going to completely change the shape of the industry is the launch of English Fine Cottons, which will be the only cotton spinner in the UK.
What are your favourite “Made in Britain” brands?
One of my current favourites is a new womenswear brand called Alie Street. They make the perfect dresses to suit my lifestyle. I also love Yull shoes – their heels are so comfortable. And for knitwear it has to be John Smedley. I still have my original Smedley Sea Island cotton V-neck that I bought with my first M&S pay cheque.
What was the first item of clothing you fell in love with?
My pale blue nubuck Doctor Martens that were glued to my feet for most of the late 1980s.
Whom do you admire in the industry?
I have a lot of respect for anyone that runs a manufacturing business in the UK. I admire the fact that [British designer] Patrick Grant bought a manufacturing unit in Blackburn and gave it a new lease of life.
Tell us something nobody else knows about you.
I could tell you a great story about when I served Brad Pitt in my shop in Portobello, but it’s not for publication.
Favourite brand? I try to support British-made brands. Alie Street is a current favourite.
Favourite place to shop? Instagram
Last fashion purchase? A pair of orange, white and blue shoes from Yull, made in east London
Biggest fashion splurge? A Hill & Friends handbag
Last holiday? A caravan in Norfolk
Last book you read? From Sweatshop to Sweater Shop by Brian de Zille
Last filmed you watched? Star Wars: The Force Awakens
First job? A designer for Tammy Girl