The Workers of England Union would like to to see more of this type of investment across England and the rest of the UK. We have from our conception highlighted how wrong it is for large business to import cheaply made products when we can make those products in our own country. We encourage retailers to use businesses like the one mentioned in the Evening Standard article below. Then they will be confident that the products they sell are being made by workers protected by UK employment laws. They will also know that buying and selling products across the UK is helping firms to reinvest in training local people to undertake the skills needed.
Workers of England Union
‘Made in Britain makes sense’: The factory sewing fastest fashion in middle of town
Source: Evening Standard
In an industrial unit five minutes from Manor House Tube is a place you’d never expect to find in Zone 2 of our service-sector driven city. Or, for that matter, anywhere west of Guangzhou.
It is a sleek, modern workshop where skilled machinists, cutters and designers manufacture — yes, manufacture — womenswear ranges for Marks & Spencer, Asos and a host of other big retail names.
Fashion Enter’s team make everything from tops retailing for £8 to fancy blouses for £50, and trucks them out to retailers quicker than a sweatshop in China, Bangladesh or Eastern Europe ever could. It’s fast fashion on steroids.
Chief executive Jenny Holloway worked in top jobs at Littlewoods, Arcadia and Marks & Spencer before setting up this latest venture. So we should listen when she declares: “Made in Britain makes sense.”
Her argument, which she sets out as London gears up for Friday’s launch of Fashion Week, is compelling. Not only can Fashion Enter get new styles into the shops faster than factories overseas but, because of that speed and proximity, she can make to order, so there’s hardly any waste.
Buying from long-haul destinations in Asia, she explains, a retailer will tend to buy shipping container-sized volumes to get the most back from the transport costs. That’s fine if a range proves popular. But if the great British public goes “meh” at the colour, fabric or cut, the stores are left with thousands of unsold items on their hands.
“With us, we’re so nearby that they can order smaller lots and quickly replenish the sizes, styles and colours the customers demand. So what they spend on our higher labour costs, they save on not having to discount unsold stock,” Holloway says. Not only that, she adds, but you can guarantee the garments are made by workers on decent wages, and in comfy conditions.
Indeed, with its brilliant white lighting — perfect for close work — Fashion Enter’s sports-hall-sized machine room is clinically clean and, bar the constant hum of sewing machines, surprisingly quiet. Not a bead of sweat in sight.
First off, the material has to be cut into shape. Two sturdy-looking chaps do this, crouching on top of long, 10ft-wide tables where they guide a vicious looking power saw through foot-deep blocks of fabric — sky blue when I visited. Each slab of material is dozens of layers thick and must be worth thousands of pounds, but the cutters saw through it at a pace, protecting their hands with chain-mail gloves.
Next, the pieces are computer barcoded before being stitched by a dozen or so machinists — mostly women — who work their way calmly through towering bundles of the pre-cut material. Eight thousand garments a week emerge from their nimble fingers.
“These are the real geniuses of the business. They’re so skilled, they’re incredible,” says Holloway proudly in a Brummie lilt. With their calm concentration and pinpoint accuracy, you can see what she means as they knock out French seams, double-lined hems and shoulder pads with barely a frown.
Next to the main machining hall is the couturier room, where a handful of super-skilled machinists — all Chinese — sew fine details onto pricier M&S blouses. Beijing pop jangles from a radio.
Upstairs, overlooking the main room, more A-team machinists work on sample pieces. This is the prototype department, where Fashion Enter’s specialists test and work out if a design is possible, suggesting tweaks to make it viable for launch.
On tables, walls and rails lie sheets of fabric of every hue, from clingy gold lamé to nose-tickling white ostrich plumes. Designers, from young-graduates to bigwigs at Asos, get this team to test if their drawing-board dreams can work in reality. Pearl Lowe, Matthew Williamson, Preen, Hemyca and Osman – all Fashion Week stalwarts -have all used these unsung engineers of the garment world.
Holloway is upset about Brexit, particularly because skills shortages in the UK mean most of her workers are from the EU. “But Brexit just makes it all the more vital that we reskill our own youngsters,” she says.
She’s doing more than most to make this happen. Last year she opened the Fashion Technology Academy with a soft loan from Asos and state funding. It provides full-time training or day release courses for apprentices and anyone considering a career in fashion design.
Says Holloway: “You can’t do design unless you know about construction. We have a motto: ‘not fashionistas, but productionistas’.”
She points at a couple of the skilled young machinists on the factory floor who have just graduated from the academy to paid jobs at Fashion Enter. Once unemployed, they’ve now got skilled careers ahead of them. Holloway runs Fashion Enter as a social enterprise, with the factory subsidising the schooling and outreach work. Asos has been a loyal supporter. Now, more big retailers should sign up with their custom and financial backing.
So, come on Next; roll up, Primark. Time to do your bit.
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