I've just got back from a debate at The London College of Fashion on the subject of 'Made in Britain', which although extremely interesting, was not well attended.
Such a shame, as there were some excellent speakers on the panel - Peter York, (Author, Columnist and Broadcaster), Jacques- Franck Dossin (former specialist at Goldman Sachs, currently a strategic advisor consultant), and Caroline Rush, Joint Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council. The proceedings were overseen by the wonderful Caryn Franklin, and discussion was focused on the politics of British fashion and the issues surrounding what constitutes British Fashion in the current global climate. Rather big issues to tackle, I think you would agree!
Much was made of the fact that it is clear British manufacturing has gone drastically down hill over the past 10 to 20 years, with a tiny percentage of UK clothing companies actually manufacturing their products here. Those doing so include luxury heritage brands, Mulberry and Aquascutum, and John Smedley, and country lifestyle brand, Barbour. Precious few companies can truly say, hand on heart, that their products are 100% made in Britain.
Peter York shared his experience of buying a Richard James suit - a product one would expect to be made in Britain, being a Savile Row tailor - however he discovered that parts of the workmanship is done in Mauritius, and he felt just a little bit cheated by this. After all, if you pay between £850 - £1250 for an item of clothing, you might expect the craftsmanship to be home grown.
On a positive note, Caryn Franklin told us of the rather suprising fact that River Island is looking to manufacture some of their products in the East End of London. In the current climate it may actually be cheaper for them to manufacture here, rather than go overseas, and also cuts down their carbon footprint. However, Caroline Rush noted that she does not forsee our high street clothing industry to ever go back to British manufacturing en masse, clearly due to lower costs in general from overseas manufacturers. But the other big problem is simply because our manufacturing skills have been lost, forgotten, and not nurtured for many years. Factories are almost antiquated compared to some of the gleaming work rooms and production facilities overseas, our machines obsolete.
Caroline also brought up the age old, but very important topic, of the importance of nurturing home grown design talent, British or otherwise. Our fashion schools produce some of the best designers and fashion graduates in the world, yet we lose them to the other fashion capitals. They are paid better (generally) if they go to the U.S, and they get excellent training in the couture houses of Paris, so what does Britain have to offer?
Caroline explained that in order to begin turning the situation around, The British Fashion Council will be developing a programme of apprenticeships for aspiring talent, going back to basics to teach them traditional ways of craftsmanship, and forging links with companies who are keen to keep British manufacturing alive.
If you are keen to hear more about this subject, keep an eye out on the Drapers website (www.drapers.com), as the discussion was filmed, posting date tbc.
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