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We must be careful to define what “Made in Britain” means

Stephen Sidkin, Chair of the Fashion Law Group at Fox Williams.

What brands mean when they say their products were ‘Made in Britain’ has become increasingly important as they look to burnish their home credentials.

As far as the law is concerned, the words ‘made in’ mean to manufacture, produce, process or recondition the goods in question.

Accordingly, we must ask whether that which took place in Britain resulted in a substantial change to the goods. If it did, the claim ‘Made in Britain’ can be made.

Unfortunately, there is little guidance as to what is or is not ‘a substantial change’. There has only been one reported court case, and that took place outside the fashion industry. But from that ruling it would seem the test is a high one - possibly far higher than brands currently understand it to be.

It is also the case that statements of origin are being made that are more specific - a brand being made in London, for example, or even a part of London such as Shoreditch.

The issue is important in terms of consumer law as watchdogs look for discrepancies in claims as to origin.

But it is even more important that the cachet of ‘Made in Britain’ is preserved and safeguarded. If we do not do so, the whole of Britain’s fashion industry will be worse off.

Readers' comments (1)

  • kate@makeitbritish.co.uk

    Hi Stephen
    This is a very interesting subject and something that I get asked about all the time by those that contact my website Make it British. The 'substantial change' rule is what I use to determine whether something should be labelled as Made in Britain, and common sense usually prevails as to what this should be in terms of each individual product.
    For instance, a T-shirt that is cut and sewn overseas but printed in the UK should quite clearly not be labelled as British-made, whereas a piece of fabric that has been printed abroad but cut and sewn into a dress in the UK can be labelled as Made in Britain because it has undergone the substantial change of being turned from fabric to dress whilst on these shores.
    Where the area becomes a little more grey is when part of the product has been put together offshore but has been finished in Britain. For instance, many English shoemakers will reduce manufacturing costs by having the uppers closed in lower labour cost countries, but the lasting and finishing done in the UK. This is obviously a substantial change as the leather does not become a shoe until these final processes are done, however many shoe companies that continue to cut, close, last and finish their shoes in the UK feel cheated by the fact that these partially offshore-manufactured shoes can still be classed as British alongside their own product.
    The solution would obviously be to have clear guidelines drawn up as to what constitutes a substantial change on a category specific basis. It has already been done in the ceramics industry, where there is an EU directive that states that ceramic ware has to be labelled according to the country in which it has its first firing. Could this not also be done in the fashion & textiles sector?
    The more that the 'Made in Britain' label continues to add value to a product the more important it becomes that these clear guidelines should be put in place, or, as you allude to above, the cachet of said labelling will become worthless.

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