Restore factory settings: Which fashion brand is reviving British factories?

Long read

Georgina Wilson-Powell

4 May 2017

While the UK might not be the mega manufacturer it was in the past, it’s far from dead and buried. Community Clothing is disrupting the relationship between factories and fashion brands, tailoring its approach to fill the lulls in production schedules and creating a brand that makes buying British a no brainer.

Community Clothing is more than just a catchy moniker. It’s the key to positively disrupting the British manufacturing industry that’s been languishing for the last few decades while we’ve all bought fast, foreign F’Row inspired looks.

British fashion designer Patrick Grant has made Britain’s factories the centre of his community, designing clothes that can be made in their downtime in between bigger contracts.

“Fashion is so seasonal that factories in the UK have times when they have no work at all,” explains Lucy Clayton, Community Clothing’s CEO. “For any business fallow periods mean it’s hard to maintain permanent staff so you end up with zero hours contracts and financial losses which can tip into a spiral of decline.

The UK has amazing factories that have been around since the 1800s and they’re crying out for work. Once they’re closed bringing them back is nearly impossible so we want to step in before that happens."

Community Clothing currently has seven factories and six textile suppliers in the UK which are part of its manufacturer's co-op.  It uses the factories’ fallow periods and suppliers’ textile remnants to create modern British clothes that are stylish and simple but use the heritage and skills of the industrial giants of the north.

“Our men's peacoat uses Hainsworth Mill fabric and is made in a factory in Blackburn which has been in operation since 1860. They uses to make a lot of military clothes. Their line is ‘the fabric of the nation’ and that’s what we’re trying to do - bring expertise and history together and keep it going."

Community Clothing Pebble Magazine7

The brand has factories queueing up to join its cool co-op

Each factory or supplier gets a plaque to show they’re in the scheme and Clayton and Grant have a lot more factories wanting to sign up. They play to each factory’s strengths - making T-shirts in one, coats in another. Since September 2016 they’ve created 6,000 hours of skilled manufacture in the UK.

“Before Christmas the factory that makes our socks had to invest in new equipment because of our orders,” says Clayton. “We want to grow the factories, not just sustain them. This is about revival not rescue.”

Community Clothing help British fashion factories so they don't have to lay off workers

Community Clothing has created 6,000 hours of skilled manufacturing since it launched in September 2016

Conscious consumerism

Clayton and Grant are tapping into a welcome move away from fast fashion. More consumers are after pieces that remain wardrobe ready long after the season has changed and their classic design approach means their collection is packed full of hard working basics and outerwear.

“We make wardrobe fundamentals that last a lifetime,” Clayton explains. “Ethical fashion can get a bit heavy and we’re not grizzly campaigners. We just make simple and beautiful clothes that are no nonsense and get on with it.”

Both mens and womens collections are similar in style and colour, with the shape adapted for each gender.

“The clothes are cost-engineered,” says Clayton. “They’re designed simply and we streamline the materials. We use the same materials for men and women. It’s efficient at every point in the design and the manufacture. We reference vintage pieces like school jumpers that were handed down and garments that people live in and become part of their history."

Community Clothing make ethical British fashion basics
“It’s as if we’ve remembered what we were good at and we’re celebrating those skills and that legacy”

For the start-up to grow and the factories to swing back into full time action, the line has to be an easy sell in a crowded marketplace.

“We have to make perfect versions of divine classics. It’s early days so most of our customers are British, so we do a lot of outerwear,” she says.

While most ethical fashion companies have small curated lines, Community Clothing is expanding fast. It debuted with 17 items as is now up to 93. The other key aspect for the brand is price.

“No one has been making British clothes that are affordable. However much you want to buy ethical or local, most people are priced out of making that decision,” says Clayton. “We run with a tiny, tiny margin so that the clothes remain affordable and everyday people can buy everyday clothes that aren’t morally dubious or compromise on style.”

And while affordability is key, so is growth for this ambitious community.

“We don’t want to be a cottage industry, we want to scale up,” explains Clayton. “We are talking to factories who are producing things we don’t make yet. We’d love to make shoes."

Community Clothing Pebble Magazine6

Community Clothing's line can be found in Selfridges as well as Blackburn

In real life

As befits a brand who are thinking big, Community Clothing doesn’t just exist online. There’s a store in Blackburn, (it will be a workshop hub during May’s National Festival of Making) which also helps to bring the community part of the brand to life.

“We accidentally opened a shop. The council gave us a space and have helped us to make it work so we run it with Bootstrap which is an agency that helps unemployed people getting back to work” explains Clayton.

During the National Festival of Making Community Clothing will host sewing workshops where people can come in and help make a quilt. The return to crafty skills is a welcome one for northern towns thinks Clayton,

“It’s as if we’ve remembered what we were good at and we’re celebrating those skills and that legacy - it’s still alive and kicking as is the manufacturing industry. We just need to support it.”

The National Festival of Making runs from 6-7 May. See the full programme of events here.

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