The managing director of silk wholesaler Biddle Sawyer Silks tells Marie Davies why demand for the luxury fabric is booming.
Can you tell Drapers a bit about Biddle Sawyer Silks?
The core of our business is the manufacturing of silks and screen-printing them by hand. We are silk wholesalers for the entire market, from high street retailers to exclusive couturiers. Our history dates back 85 years, so we have an archive of more than 100,000 prints. Our turnover for the past 12 months was £3m - that’s an increase of £1m on the previous year.
Where did the rise come from?
Volume is up, so we have made our margin more competitive.
Is that because silk has been on trend?
Yes, high-graphic and digital prints are very popular at the moment. Erdem is a prime example of a designer who has amazing ability when it comes to silk prints.
Have silk prices been affected in the same way as cotton prices?
Raw silk prices have increased by about 98% over the past 18 months, for a number of reasons. First, there have been very poor silk crops in China. Second, there is an increased demand from China’s own economy, plus wages in China have increased by 20% in addition to increased energy prices.
Our biggest concern as a supplier was whether our wholesale customers were going to question the commercial viability of silk with the price rise but, because of quantities, we’ve been able to cut our margins and pass on only a small amount of the price rise.
Has the price increase been an issue with buyers?
Silk is a luxury commodity and people expect to pay a little bit more - it’s not all about margins. If we look after people they will come back to us. The consumer is becoming more educated and wants to buy better-quality fabrics and move away from man-made fibres. There is definitely a shift from buying mass-produced products - exclusivity is key.
You are sponsoring the London College of Fashion press show. Why is this important to you?
It’s important to educate students about what is commercial and what isn’t. What holds them back in the industry is their lack of experience in the commercial world. The talent we have in the UK often disappears to other countries because it is not supported enough in the UK.
What’s next for Biddle Sawyer Silks?
Phase one was to increase our presence in London, which we have tackled by opening our retail store on Berwick Street. We want to make silk an available commodity to people in addition to supporting the industry - you have to be commercial.
Do you manufacture in the UK?
Some 85% of our manufacturing is done in the UK and the rest is spread across Italy, Portugal and China. In the Far East, prices of commodities and wages have gone up, so it’s not as palatable as two years ago. We have the appetite to buy more businesses that support and manufacture textiles and we want to invest in UK manufacturing plants.
What brands do you admire?
Tom Ford and Gucci (pictured). They concentrate heavily on the most superior product and work around that, as opposed to the price point.
What was the last item of clothing you bought?
A tailored suit from Chris Kerr on Berwick Street. It’s a houndstooth, two-piece, one-button fitted suit, lined with English printed silk twill (pictured).
Where are the different arms of your business based?
We’re in Berwick Street for retail (pictured), wholesale is in Manchester and we have a manufacturers in Sheffield.
Tro Manoukian is the managing director of silk wholesaler Biddle Sawyer Silks.