The Times article
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As I sat, reading The Times over breakfast on Monday 2nd December, I got a bit of a shock when I read the page 5 article about Jeremy Hackett’s claims about British tailoring. He said, “who can make a quality Jermyn Street shirt these days? It’s pretty much gone.” Well if this was the case, I would have found it impossible to source a top quality British manufacturer for my clothing company, Oswald & Kane.
After leaving school at 18, I founded my own clothing company, with the aim to manufacture as many products in the UK as possible. I knew this would be a challenge, with more and more companies transferring their manufacturing overseas; but it was a challenge I was willing to accept. I tried a few different kinds of manufacturers, from the small fashion units, found in East London, to a larger manufacturer, that specialises in high quality shirts.
I am 21 now, and Oswald and Kane has been running for over a year. At the moment we sell online, and have done some small shows, as we love meeting people and talking about our shirts and where they are made. Many people are surprised, as a start up, that our shirts are made in Britain, but they also seem to be under an illusion, that all the brands that trade on their “British heritage” actually manufacture all their clothing over here.
Although I was certain about having British made shirts, I did not want to compromise their quality, just to have the “Made in Britain” label on them. All our customers have commented favourably on the quality of our shirts. A lot of time has been spent in ensuring they are the best quality, even though they are smart casual shirts, an area of shirting where quality often comes a long way after the brand name.
A lot of clothing companies, that manufacture overseas, have such a large demand for clothing orders, that many current UK factories would struggle to cope. That does not mean it is impossible to bring back British manufacturing, but these companies would need to start transferring work back to factories over here, and overtime the British clothing manufacturing industry would start to boom. The main reason for moving production overseas for any company, is an increase in profit margins, rather than poor quality British manufacturing. We have a lot of niche markets for high end clothing, but we also still have a strong manufacturing base for tailored clothing such as suits, shirts and jackets.
An Oswald & Kane shirt, costs up to £89, which is in the “upper high street” bracket. The price takes into account the cost of the quality shirting fabric that we use, as well as the cost of high quality British manufacturing. Although £89 makes them far from the cheapest smart casual shirts on the market, it does not make them more expensive than many big brands, and often come in cheaper, even though they are made in the UK. I believe if you are proud enough to flaunt your British heritage, then you should make every attempt to help the British economy, and make as many of your clothes over here as possible! I would, personally, feel very uncomfortable in trading on my company’s British roots, if I did not have the majority of my products made over here; and this is something I will stick to as the company grows.
I am realistic enough to realise, that especially in cheaper made goods, it is not economically viable at the moment to make all these products over here. I remember trying to find somewhere in the UK that could make polo shirts and hoodies, when I considered a more casual line, and I did draw a blank on who could manufacture these. This made me more surprised that Jeremy Hackett, highlighted British tailoring as being the poor quality part of British manufactured clothes. There are fantastic manufacturers, that make not only shirts, but tailored jackets, and beautifully cut suits.
I believe the quality of tailoring you can get over here is fantastic, and although it costs more than overseas, I believe that is a cost worth paying. I believe as a country, we are thinking more about ethical production, and where our clothes come from. In different industries such as farming, there are different schemes promoting British produce, and in other industries we are constantly reminded about how far things have travelled, and the effect on the environment. We need a similar promotion in the fashion industry, where consumers have a transparent labelling system, where companies must limit their marketing on their British heritage, unless they start manufacturing a higher percentage of their goods in the UK.
The fashion world, has transformed, from well made pieces that are made to last, to a world of “fast fashion” where trends come and go, and clothes are seen as disposable, as they are so cheap. I think this opinion is slowly on the decrease, with the “future generation” which at 21, I see myself as part of, starts to consider the ethical side of manufacturing clothes, and thinks about quality over quantity. It may be a slow process, but it is one we really must encourage. I do believe, there is a great future for manufacturing in this country, especially in the classic style of tailored clothing.
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