Monday, 26 October 2009

Where did they British textile industry go?

In an article about an M&S dress worn by Sarah Cameron (the wife of Conservative party leader David Cameron, for the non Brits) in the Daily Mail yesterday, I read the following piece of text with great interest:

Marks & Spencer now manufactures only 5 per cent of its clothing in the UK.
Another great British brand, Jaeger, which as recently as 1983 manufactured 95 per cent of its garments in the UK, has since allowed the number of its British manufacturers to dwindle to precisely zero.
Burberry, too, which is fond of trumpeting its British heritage, oft repeating the fact that its trench coats were designed to keep our soldiers dry in the trenches of World War I, and which was welcomed back into the fold of London Fashion Week last month, closed yet another UK factory in January this year - in Rotherham, South Yorkshire - with a loss of 170 jobs.

It made me think about where my own wardrobe was produced, and whether that was something I felt comfortable about. Not just because of the often young workers in these far off countries being paid an unliveable wage (something we are all aware of and have all read about) but because of the decline of skills and jobs for British fashion workers. Because the heritage and reputation we have for our skilled tailors, precise seamstresses and accurate machine workers will die when these people have to retrain, because there isn't a job for them in fashion anymore.

Before he joined the army my dad had an apprenticeship to a tailor. Amongst his many stories (my dad is fab and full of stories!) is one about the ageing tailor who taught him who would skimp a quarter of a centimetre off the seam of every suit he produced until he had enough spare fabric to make my dad his first bespoke suit. The admiration in dad's voice when he tells this story speaks volumes. During the 80s my mum had a different dress for every ball she attended. They were hand made by the seamstress she used for my dads entire career (the only one she trusted with her dresses!) I distinctly remember sitting at the bottom of the stairs, aged 6, and watching her descend in acres of polka dot tulle. I gasped and declared her a princess. For years that dress stayed in her wardrobe, always referred to as "the princess dress". It stikes me that in this day in 2009 my mums seamstresss and my dad's tailor would probably be out of a job.

Today I am wearing head to toe Topshop (my new day of the dead skirt, a black silk top, oversized necklace and leggings) A faux pas I know but it looks pretty great! As you know, a lot of my clothes come from topshop. But looking inside the tags of these I see "made in Romania" "made in India" and "made in China"."Made in England" is a label I see now only in vintage and charity shops.

And this makes me wonder whether looking great is a big enough reason to keep buying these things. I'm certainly no activist, but maybe if we all pulled together and only brought clothes with that elusive "made in England" label on it then the stores would have to sit up and take note. In New York the fashion industry pulled together with a campaign to use and preserve their garment industry. Isn't it time for London designers to do the same thing?

Sorry for the rant!
Love, Tor xx


DeenaBeena said...

It pains me to say it but unfortunately I think no-one is going to want to see their production costs more than double and their profit margins dwindle just to meet a romanticised notion of bringing manufacturing back to Britain. The off shore prices are just too good. Its a sad state of affairs though when even the heritage brands produce the bulk of their garments abroad and I for one would love to see the old factories dusted off and back in business but I can't see it happening.
I do wonder what will happen many years from now if the off shore prices rise sharply and there comes a day when it would be cheaper to get clothing manufactured locally but theres no one around to do it as there are no factories to re-open because they've all been bulldozed or re purposed. What then? Whats plan B?

DeenaBeena said...

Still thinking about your question.......

I think one way to try to stop garment factories from closing is for them to employ a good dose of PR and market themselves to new designers who won't have the budget or knowhow to source off shore manufacturers. I know of one factory who is doing this and their production schedule is jam packed.

Make Do Style said...

Look this age old argument of cost is nothing more than dressing up the words margins and profits.

I boycott Burberry because they have under a non Brit CEO ruined communities by closing down factories all to eek a bit more profit.

There is no plan B so now we find ourselves facing rising costs for our clothes - just note how much they are creeping up even in Primark!

Deena Beena's second comment offers some hope and perhaps we need to support home grown design produced in the UK, not because I don't think we shouldn't have clothes from elsewhere but we need a better balance, more sustainable economies.

everybodysaysdont said...

Topshop do make some items in the UK and I have some Hobbs and Jigsaw clothes made in the UK too. They do tend to be more expensive too...but I feel better when I buy them! xx

frenchforcupcake said...

I think it's important to protect British factories, but at the same time a boycott of shops that import from India, Bangladesh etc where some of the worlds major garments factories are located will have a massively negative effect on the millions of labourers there who depend on that income.

lucem ferre said...

Izzy Lane, true to British industry.