The Resurgence of British Manufacturing



It was 1995 when I started my career as a Fashion Recruiter in the world of Design, Technical and Production – and what a different world it was! A large proportion of my client base was made up of UK manufacturers and suppliers to Marks & Spencer, who at the time were famous for their “Made in Britain” label in their clothing. I recruited Pattern Cutters, Trims Buyers, Work Study Engineers, and Factory Managers – roles that are now very rare in the UK.

Then everything started to change – competition reared its head in the form of Far East. Production costs were cheaper, lead times were workable and the knock on effect was that factories started to close and the fashion industry in the UK went into decline as sourcing shifted offshore.

But over the past couple of years, the fashion consumer has started to crave design and quality, and British made product has experienced as resurgence. British denim brand Joe & Co are a menswear fashion label who carry the passion, dedication and commitment to delivering product that’s made in England and we spoke to their Creative Director, Josef Schindler about their own success and challenges and what it’s like to be a true British brand…

FSRL – “What made you go down the Made in Britain route?"
JS – “I have been manufacturing in the UK since 1987. Everything we produced was within a 100 mile radius of Manchester; we were producing 50,000 pairs of jeans a year. Our jeans factory even had a purpose built industrial laundry in their premises. Our sandblasters were farmers who built a special unit solely for that purpose... it was quite mad really, thinking back. We had our Knitwear made in the Midlands; our shirts were made in Manchester, our sweats and tees made in Oldham.

All this was from 1987-95, and then all of a sudden, everyone started to creep off to Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and the Far East.”

FSRL – “Have you ever sourced offshore – and what's been the difference for you?”
JS - “Yes.. We have sourced from China, Turkey, Tunisia, Bulgaria USA, and Latvia to name but a few. The difference is price obviously and in a lot of cases attention to detail was much better in terms of quality plus we were able to do what we wanted but it was not all plain sailing that’s for sure. The beauty of making in the UK is that you can control it much better and the cost implications were high. The timing was also critical, as the UK could react a lot quicker for injection into the collection.”

FSRL – “What challenges have you faced re sourcing from the UK?”
JS – “The challenges faced have not been finding the factories but finding factories who actually want to work with you in terms of production minimums, quantity and price, As I am not a volume company and we specialise in limited editions, my minimums can be a little as 10 pieces. The knock on from this is that the price goes through the roof and factories tend to close the doors so this in the past has proved pretty difficult, but I have the suppliers I need for now and I’m happy. 
 
 FSRL – “How easy has it been for you to source across all of your categories i.e. from denim to jersey to outerwear”
JS – “Some have been a stroll in the park and some have been quite difficult, it’s all about selling yourself and the concept. Once you have done that, they tend to feel more comfortable and then do some trial sampling to see if everyone is happy. It can change on a monthly basis as once they know you are doing OK, the prices start to creep up.”

FSRL – “What has been the response of your customer base and how have you marketed yourself as a British brand who make in England?”
JS - “The customer response has been really good considering I am a relatively new brand. Having said that, I have pulled the brand from 90% of the stores for bad payments or no payments at all and as a result I made the decision to sell everything online for the time being.

I am a product person and I must admit my marketing skills are not very good, and really need a marketing team on this, but it’s down to the pennies. I have marketed the brand through word of mouth, and all the social networks, plus trade shows like Jacket Required and Stitch, which wasn’t as successful as I had hoped, with the exception of Jacket Required where Selectism did us a good feature and MARUBINI from Japan invited us to their buying showroom in London.”

You can see the latest range from Joe & Co at their website – www.joeandco.co.com