The boss of country brand Beaver of Bolton and women’s outerwear label Libertyfreedom speaks up for the UK to Lucie Goulet
How did you get into fashion?
My parents had a clothing shop in Birmingham, so from an early age I was exposed to fashion. When I went to art college I specialised in fashion textiles. My first job was with a large Manchester coat manufacturer called Rammon, which supplied high street stores such as Laura Ashley and Jaeger. I then joined [country clothing brand] Beaver of Bolton and became sales and design director. Its products were stuck in the 1970s, in terms of both style and quality, yet were at very high price points. So the product needed redesigning, which is what I did. Then foot and mouth disease hit trade in 2001, because Beaver was first and foremost a country clothing company. We were sold in rural shops, which lost customers during the foot and mouth panic. Tourists weren’t coming to the UK anymore either.
So with the former managing director Aled Brown I bought the company and restarted it in 2002.
What made you decide to launch luxury tweed outerwear brand Libertyfreedom in 2005?
Libertyfreedom is a design concept. It’s something I wanted to do because of my design background. Luckily, I had Beaver of Bolton to foot the bills. I started designing it with the thought that if it didn’t work out, the samples would go to charity shops. Whereas both brands use English fabrics, and are made in the northwest, Libertyfreedom is edgy and allows for experimentation, while Beaver of Bolton is classic English clothing. Everything is potential inspiration for Libertyfreedom, from the Three Musketeers to what I see in magazines.
Do you think we’ll see more fashion businesses shifting production back to the UK?
It’s getting rarer and rarer to see UK-based production. We’re very sad to see that people let it go overseas, and we do what we can to keep ours going. It used to be such an important part of the British quality mark. People really should support British manufacturers.
How hard is it to find UK production?
We do everything from T-shirts to jeans and tweed. At some point last year we wanted to do prints but couldn’t get them done in the UK at first, but then we found a company in London called IVO Print. We’ll get to a point where being entirely UK made will be impossible. Even something as basic as zips for instance are nearly impossible to find in this country.
How has the recession impacted on your business?
It hasn’t so far.
In 2008 we had growth of 22%; last year we had more than 30%.
What does the future hold for Libertyfreedom?
We’re up to about 20 stockists in the UK and 30 worldwide, and hope to get more. We are looking into potential new stockists in other towns and cities. The aim for 2010 is more growth. We are currently sold in Germany and France. Expanding into Italy is a natural step. Outside Europe we are sold in the US and Beaver of Bolton does really well in New York.
Upender Mehra is a director of men’s country brand Beaver of Bolton and women’s outerwear label Libertyfreedom
Who is your favourite UK designer? Vivienne Westwood.
Where do you like to shop? Independent boutiques in the Northern Quarter in Manchester (Mod Pop, pictured).
What is the item of clothing you wish you had come up with? Bondage trousers
Which is your favourite city to shop in? New York.