Is “Made in Britain” the new buzz phrase?

Ayten Roberts

Anyone who has read a lingerie magazine, blog, or been on any of the numerous social networking sites recently would have seen the uproar at Mary Portas’ claim that she is “turning the lights back on Great British manufacturing”. With each new article on her range of Kinky Knickers we were all disappointed to hear her dismiss all the UK designers who have been proudly designing and manufacturing in the UK for years. But with each article also comes news that more and more labels are re-evaluating how and where their production is done. Sir Philip Green has promised to look into how the Arcadia Group can boost production in the UK, whilst River Island have introduced a UK made range which has become a best seller.

Growing up with a family full of designers and makers, I knew the importance of well made pieces, and the history and skill in British manufacturing. My mother had worked as a seamstress for Arcadia in the early 1990s and I remember my grandmother working in a north London factory producing clothing for at least 30 different designers each season. Upon graduating from Central Saint Martin’s in 2004, I was saddened to find the closure of many of the UK based manufactures and design houses. All design jobs had moved to Europe while the London factories I knew as a child had all closed as designers now searched for a cheaper alternative overseas

As an independent British designer I felt it was vital for me to support the industry around me. Each link in the chain was considered, from the lace and trim supplier, the factories I worked with and continue to work with, and the independent boutiques I sell to. I am often frustrated to hear the ‘tricks of the trade’ which are used to fool us into thinking something is made in the UK from the design board to the final item. For instance, did you know a fashion piece can be made in the Far East but have a button sewn on in Britain for it to be “hand finished in the UK”? Or that many “Designed in the UK” pieces are then sourced and made abroad?

Whilst it is important to address how important British manufacturing is for our economy, I am apprehensive to see what will happen when the spotlight has faded. Once Mary Portas’ latest knicker project is aired on Channel 4 later in the year what will become of her Manchester based factory? Will she introduce new styles to keep the focus on UK manufacturing? Will she acknowledge the brands that already do so much for the manufacturing industry? Will the larger high street chains go back to solely producing aboard; leaving the factories they have worked with to cope with their sudden loss?

There is a growing demand for locally made items, and the upcoming Olympics will hopefully generate an element of pride amongst designers, makers and consumers. “Made in Britain” should not just be the trend for this season and we should all make the effort to generate awareness of British made labels in the truest meaning of the phrase.