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Bringing Made in UK back to life


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However, Made in UK still faces several challenges: not least a post-Brexit shortage of skilled machinists. And, in recent months, manufacturers have been hit by the collapse of Matches, and the ongoing struggles of British designers. On 17 April, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty hosted a ‘matchmaking’ event aimed at introducing British fashion and retail businesses to locally based manufacturers and suppliers, as a way of boosting the industry. But most agree that significantly more needs to be done to support home-grown manufacturing.

“If you’re purely a manufacturer, it’s difficult not to feel like your business is built on sand because you don’t know when the next contract is coming,” says John Smedley deputy managing director Jess Mcguire-Dudley. She argues that John Smedley has an advantage because it is both a brand and a manufacturer. The John Smedley brand has 13 bricks-and-mortar stores across the UK and Japan, its own e-commerce site and wholesale partners in 47 countries worldwide, including Mr Porter, Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Isetan, De Bijenkorf and Le Bon Marché. The company’s annual turnover is £18 million.

Provenance over price

Mcguire-Dudley says that, until relatively recently, many British brands have remained focused on manufacturing as cheaply as possible. Now the tide is turning. “Brands have had to make a decision: are you going for price, or are you going for provenance? And there has been this shift back towards provenance, to deliver that story of authenticity for customers and become more responsible businesses,” she says.

Traceability and transparency are some of the biggest arguments for bringing production of clothing closer to home. John Smedley’s merino and British wools are sourced from farms in the UK — where fibres travel less than 300 miles from field to its Derbyshire factory — as well as from long-standing suppliers in New Zealand.

“Most British brands are headquartered in London — our factory in Derbyshire is an hour and a half away,” says Mcguire-Dudley. “You can come and speak to the design team, see a sample or resolve an issue, really quickly. You wouldn’t have that same openness if you’re only going to visit your factory once a year or everything is communicated via email or [Microsoft] Teams.”

Following initial conversations with brands to gauge interest, John Smedley has lined up its first clients. Among them, it has agreed to produce a 12-piece knitwear collection for British brand Daks for SS25, under a new collaborative label. John Smedley will focus on supplying luxury and designer labels, but Mcguire-Dudley emphasises that it’s “less about big names and more about building a long-term collective of like-minded brands to champion British manufacturing”.

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