Mustafa Fuat is flying the flag for UK manufacturing with his womenswear studio, Gosha London
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Standing in the February drizzle outside the Park Royal Business Centre in north Acton, west London, it is hard to imagine a connection between the unremarkable building and glamorous stars such as Rita Ora, Jennifer Lopez and the Duchess of Sussex.
However, several of the dresses worn by these famous names and created by high-profile designers such as Roland Mouret, Roksanda and Amanda Wakeley have passed through this building, which has been home to luxury womenswear CMT (cut, make and trim) manufacturer Gosha London for more than 20 years.
In an expanded, 1,950 sq ft version of its original studio, director Mustafa Fuat and his team of 12 painstakingly produce luxury gowns and high-end dresses for international brands, bringing to life the garments that grace the backs of royalty, celebrities and designer fashion fans.
All designers in this country should be made to have a minimum of 50% of their collections made here
The disconnect between this hub of UK manufacturing and the image of luxury fashion is just one of the many misconceptions Fuat is working hard to break down.
“People think you can’t make luxury here in the UK, but you can,” he says passionately over the gentle whirr of sewing machines inside his light, bright studio.
“We do it so well, and we don’t get the recognition we deserve. The UK produces garments as good as anyone, if not better. It was short-term greed that made brands [move manufacturing] to China and the likes. But it’s changing and we’re capable of expanding the industry here, so the rest of the world is envious of what we can make.”
“Gosha London is one of the top London manufacturers. The skills they have, I think a lot of people don’t realise still exist in the UK,” echoes Kate Hills, founder of Make It British, who refers to manufacturers as the “unsung heroes of fashion”.
“The other thing that is special about Mustafa is the environment he’s created. People think of manufacturing as grim lines of sewing machines, but [Gosha London] is a lovely place. He shows how you should run a factory today.”
Born in Cyprus in 1957, Fuat moved to Birmingham in 1964 and started as a footballer, but “didn’t quite make the grade”.
Showing the beginnings of an entrepreneurial spirit, a relocation to London in 1981 and odd jobs in restaurants led him to open his own, in Lee Green in 1988, serving “continental with a Turkish twist”. However, soon the stress of restaurant life drove him to search for a more stable “day job” and he opened a dry-cleaning business in Sydenham.
“I thought: ‘Why not? All the other Turks and Greeks are doing it,’” he laughs.
Over the next 15 years, he learnt the trade and opened his own dry-cleaning business, where he fell in love with fabrics and fibres. In 1994, some friends were launching a fashion brand and asked Fuat to get involved.
If one brand is giving you more than 70% of your work, then you’re in danger
“I was really taken by it,” he says. “One day, I turned to my wife and said: ‘I think we’re going to go into the fashion industry’. And we did.”
Fuat’s interest in fabrics led him to manufacturing: “I found a lady [Malgorzata Jancelewicz Gosia], who was working for Amanda Wakeley and the likes. She took me on board [in her manufacturing business] and I was working with her for about nine months, quickly learning the pitfalls of manufacturing.”
Gosha died of cancer in 2003, and Fuat decided to set up his own studio named after the woman who gave him his break in manufacturing. He started with three staff, and his first clients were Amanda Wakeley and Paddy Campbell.
“Mustafa is a shining example of the type of top-quality manufacturing we have across London – businesses offering quality, reliability, high skill levels and, of course, convenience of location,” says Alice Burkitt, a manufacturing consultant who co-ordinates the UK Fashion and Textile Association London manufacturers group, of which Fuat is an active member.
“He and his team are able to deliver complex designs as well as extremely high-quality finishes, so it is unsurprising that he maintains long-standing relationships with some of the biggest names in high-end womenswear.”
As well as established fashion week names such as Roland Mouret, Christopher Kane and Peter Pilotto, Gosha London also works with emerging businesses, such as Fyodor Golan and Galvan.
“For a young brand like us, working with UK factories helps to give us more control over the product, as frequent visits and easy communication help to build the collection to the level we require, ensuring that we deliver to the highest standard and on time,” says Danielle Graham, head of production and development at women’s eveningwear brand Galvan.
“Gosha is able to handle a multi-product range. However, for our type of product, they are particularly good at dresses. The production of our garments, internally and externally, is always very neat and finished to a high standard.”
Despite his successes, Fuat admits it has not been the easiest of journeys, revealing that the business nearly “went under six times in the first 10 years”.
“There certainly have been lows. [In the early 2000s] we did 140 silk dresses for Biba in three weeks that should have cost nearly £15,000 and we never got paid, as it fell into administration. That had a huge impact,” he says, adding: “Actually, I did get paid. £1.74, after three years. It was ridiculous.”
The “lowest low” was when Amanda Wakeley was bought out by another company in 2003. Gosha London was producing 2,000 Amanda Wakeley units per season, accounting for 90% of its business, but the new management decided to move the brand’s manufacturing elsewhere.
“That’s the biggest fear for every manufacturer,” says Fuat. “Some brands are clever: they feed you, giving you bigger quantities. Then slowly they have you, and start cutting prices, and you have to accept it. If one brand is giving you more than 70% of your work, then you’re in danger.”
The relationship between brands and manufacturers can be a delicate one, but Fuat believes they can blossom when based on mutual respect.
“Brands can be promiscuous,” he says. “I think all designers in this country should be made to have a minimum of 50% of their collections made here. We need their support and they need to champion us. For us to thrive, to create a UK fashion industry that we can be proud of and the whole world can look to, we have to work together.
There are misconceptions around manufacturing in the UK. Sweatshops are what people imagine
] “What are designers without manufacturers? They are artists. They create beautiful designs, but they need pattern cutters, and machinists, and people like us, to bring it to life. It’s a partnership.”
Fuat argues that manufacturers must also stand up to brands: “We need to say: ‘This is how much it costs, so we won’t go lower than that.’ And we need to be clear on deadlines. When you deliver on time, you are stronger and can say: ‘Pay me on time’.”
The core of the problem, Fuat believes, is the lack of attention given to UK manufacturers, which in turn hinders the industry, and its reputation at home and abroad: “There are misconceptions around manufacturing in the UK. Sweatshops are what people imagine, and fast fashion. With all the bad press in Leicester [following an exposé last year revealing the unethical practices of some manufacturers], people tar all of us with the same brush. Everyone thinks the beautiful work is done elsewhere, but that’s not true.”
He recalls an example a few years ago at the London Fashion Week show of his then client, Roksanda, when some buyers questioned where in Italy the items on the catwalk were made. They were shocked when Fuat happily revealed “every piece on the catwalk was made five miles away” in the Gosha London studio.
He believes bodies such as the British Fashion Council (BFC) could do more to draw more attention to this side of the industry.
“At the BFC’s Fashion Awards, designers thank everybody – their dogs, their cats – but not once are the manufacturers mentioned. They need to recognise us, then maybe people will look beyond the glamour of the fashion shows and think of manufacturing as more than dingy sweatshops.”
Skills are disappearing: pattern cutting, sewing, draping. People aren’t coming into the industry to learn any more
The industry’s widening skills gap and ageing workforce is another issue at the front of Fuat’s mind: “Skills are disappearing: pattern cutting, sewing, draping. People aren’t coming into the industry to learn any more. I have huge respect for brands and designers, but they need to give us more recognition, otherwise how are we going to get young people into the manufacturing industry, if we don’t make it appealing to be anything other than a designer?”
[“We’re going to need people like Mustafa more than ever after Brexit,” says Make It British’s Hills. “We can’t afford to lose people like him. It might seem less glamorous, but it’s so important. By highlighting what people like him do, I think more young people would see the opportunities of manufacturing as a career.”
Gosha London’s workforce now has an average age of 45, down from 58, but Fuat says he struggles to find and retain skilled staff, and this has been compounded by Brexit. “With the uncertainties here, a couple of my staff decided to leave.”
Brands are uncertain of what costs are going to be coming into the UK, so people are looking to produce here again
However, he believes Brexit could have a positive effect on the UK’s manufacturing industry: “Though I’m a [Brexit] ‘remainder’, in a crude way, I think [leaving the EU] is going to be a positive. Brands are uncertain of what costs are going to be coming into the UK, so people are looking to produce here again. I’ve had designers who stopped working with me call me up.”
A mix of passion, positivity, pride and perfectionism seems to have pulled Fuat and Gosha London through, and looking to the future, he remains optimistic.
“Business is good. I’m taking on new clients. I’ve gone up another level [by working with designer brand] Ralph Russo.
“People say, ‘Get a bigger factory, do menswear, expand’, but I don’t want to. I want to have my hand in everything to ensure the quality stays the best it can be. Even though sometimes the details aren’t seen, they’re inside a dress, I know they’re there. Everything has to be perfect.”
Whether it is raising the profile of British manufacturers, shifting perceptions around ‘Made in the UK’ or enticing talent into manufacturing careers, Fuat is on a mission to put London and its manufacturers back on the map.
Gosha London: a maker of London Fashion Week