I wasn’t expecting to be writing about anything else this week other than our indie lingerie brands Lovebomb, let alone UK made lingerie which should by all rights be Ayten or Kelly’s domain, but BOOM, right in the middle of it, someone sent me a link about Mary Portas starting her own lingerie line.
I am actually a serial Portas addict. A retail expert, she’s forthright in the extreme - by English standards, which I appreciate are a little peculiar – and I loved her Queen of Shops series. I have no issue with people starting their own lingerie ranges, because thus far no-one has decided to do exactly what we’re doing and I mostly think KMD is working its groove quite happily these days. In fact, as you’ve seen from the Lovebomb, I’m quite enthusiastic about pointing our fans at other places!
But the press release . . . oh, the press releases . . . I don’t know who wrote them but they seem a tad inaccurate. Well, we all engage in marketing hyperbole, I guess. Also, cute picture!
Hang on, “turning the lights back on for Great British Manufacturing”?!
A few of us got our knickers in a twist after seeing this and went off to look for more information, and I rang the factory we work with in Nottingham that produces about half our stock to check they were still there. Happily, they weren’t a figment of my imagination.
What we found was stuff about Mary, new champion and saviour of UK Manufacturing.
Ummm . . . there are about a million issues here, and even with my limited knowledge, when I started writing about them, it got ridiculously long. Plus, we don’t really know what the series will end up like because it’s still being made – it could be an amazingly nuanced piece about the challenges and benefits of manufacturing within the UK. Or, it could just be a sideways shift in the Portas personal brand. I’d run a book, but I’m not sure we’d agree on how to judge it!
The UK does have major issues with manufacturing, after decimating our ailing industrial sector in the 80′s. This is for all sorts of reasons, including global trade/import, consumerism and price sensitivities, politics, practicalities and vicious circles . . . factories closing = skills lost = you open a factory and can’t staff it . . . many of us agree it’s an issue. We especially have an issue with getting components and fabrics made in the UK – there are factories to make lingerie, but almost no factories to make the things that you make the lingerie out of.
The UK lingerie industry is hardly sitting in the dark. We have two degrees churning out graduates with technical and creative skills every year. We have most of the young designer/indie lingerie brands in the world, as far as I can tell from trade shows. We have the UKFT helping us kick some butt at said shows, and keeping a searchable database of UK factories. The factory I work with has been running at capacity for the last 6 months, and is trying to work out how to expand without doing anything too risky.
It’s also worth noting that even the UK brands who don’t make in the UK are employing more people than some of us who are, in design, patterning, garment tech, sales and business roles. Hardly to be sniffed at in a recession!
So you might imagine that any attempt to help UK manufacturing would involve boosting the work and supporting the efforts of people who’ve been toiling away at it for a while now with minimal resources, rather than setting up an entirely new project which inevitably will only be able to offer a small product range instead of reflecting the enormous breadth the UK industry actually offers. Or, you could try encouraging department stores and shops to buy British, or help find people who could make the fabrics, or educate customers about why it matters, or help factories that are struggling to invest in new workers expand, or help brands to find more outlets for their UK made items.
But that probably wouldn’t make very good telly. So we thought we might toddle down and see if we can make things a bit more interesting by Asking Questions Politely, and then probably having some tea. Hopefully some of you will join us, and I’m sure we’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, here’s a little list of our own, which I suspect will get added to for some time. I’m not going to add every manufacturer ever to it because frankly, people will pay me for that info and its taken me years to get it, but here’s a couple to keep you going:
AJM sewing; I cadged all my info about them off Ayten – they were set up when Gossard moved production overseas, they employ 41 people, and they do lingerie, swim, nightwear and the occasional bit of upholstery. They said they work regularly with at least 10 UK brands
Orbital : set up by Kelly who runs the independent/luxury trade show and shop, the Lingerie Collective, and also a manufacturing unit for said brands.
Gio – the old stockings company I work with.
Vixen, who make the 10, 12, and 14 strap suspender belts that I refuse to!
British made British brands;
Modern Courtesn and MC Lounge
Pretty Form and Revival
Betty Blue’s loungerie
Obey My Demand
Who made your pants
British brands who make some or most of their goods in the UK
Us! – check the product descriptions, but roughly speaking, if its a continuity item or a different colour of a continuity items, its made here, if its a bra set, its made overseas. Stockings are part British, part French, part European.
Velda Lauder – the corsets are all UK made, the lingerie is sometimes made overseas.
Made By Niki - The String range is made here in the UK, I think the Feel is made overseas – you’d need to check with them for other ranges.
Paolita – all the beachwear is made in the UK
British brands made overseas but exporting British style round the world!
Playful Promises - though the pasties exclusive to the shop and site are British.
What Katie Did – ditto on the pasties front though!