There is a distinct groundswell of interest for fashion designed and produced in the UK, but we never ask ourselves why this is, or whether it is preferable. The rise of manufacturing in the Far East at very low cost, doubled by the general lack of manufacturing in the UK, has definitely opened the market for 'Made in the UK' branding.
A popular attitude among Western consumers is to avoid foreign manufacturing, especially from Asia and South Asia, on grounds of low quality. China, for instance, has become a target of such speech. Is that really the case? Can we deem Chinese manufacturing altogether bad? This is a nation famed for its Jade, excellent cuisine, the Great Wall, and Ming vases; it is not a nation short on craftsmanship. Why is it, then, that we blame the Chinese for the shoddy workmanship, when other factors might be involved: overconsumption and low prices, for instance?
Brands like Private White V.C., E. Tautz & Sons, Margaret Howell, and Realm & Empire all manufacture in the U.K. using British factories and mills. E. Tautz and Private White V.C. own these assets, and this fact has become part of their brand identity. Margaret Howell and Realm & Empire do not own their own factories, but operate within their means to manufacture as much as possible in the UK.
These efforts are met with particular challenges: the fabric, sometimes, cannot be produced in the UK (Private White V.C. use fabric produced in Switzerland). As Realm & Empire put it: “In reality, however, like many other home grown brands, we are restricted by the lack of material manufacture here.” The choice is limited by a low demand of British fabrics, followed naturally by low production of these products.
Conversely, the demand for clothing at incredibly cheap prices remains high, despite the popular rejection of Chinese made products. This is a sign of information asymmetry, and of a faulty rationale: consumers attribute the low quality of clothing to it being made in China, and not to the fact that they purchase it at incredibly low prices.
Of the brands mentioned above, Private White V.C. and E. Tautz are at a natural advantage due to the direct access to a British factory. For example, Patrick Grant, head of E. Tautz & Sons, recently launched Community Clothing, a non-profit label, which uses factories´ down-time in order to create basic, but quality products, thus adding value to his brand.
Private White V.C.'s factory is so Mancunian, that even the machinery is made in Manchester, and guided tours are offered to the general public. They seem to adopt transparency as a brand policy, going as far as producing opinions on matters of social interest, such as immigration: in a Channel 4 segment, they mentioned the difficulty to find employees among British young people, a problem which could be solved by immigrants.
Realm & Empire have exclusive rights to use the Imperial War Museum's archive, and manufacture predominantly in the UK. As many before them did, they appropriate the military uniform, in order to reinterpret designs for today's market. They also make use of the cultural value attached to 'Made in the UK' labels. However, there are still open questions regarding the authenticity of an all-round British production line.
Words: Seth Footring
Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu