The “Meet the Manufacturer” conference and exhibition, organised by Kate Hills at Make it British, took place a few weeks ago. I popped up to London myself, thinking it would be interesting……..but I was ill-prepared for the excitement created!! At one point, maybe more, I don’t know, the queue was so long it was taking half an hour for attendees to pick up their badges. Apparently 600 were expected to attend. 3000 turned up. No-one foresaw the enthusiasm generated!!
I didn’t attend the conferences (since my business is so small it wasn’t justifiable). Before going in to look around the exhibition, though, we decided to have a much-needed coffee – well, that was an experience in itself! We got a bit lost around the Truman Brewery building, never having been before, but saw a sign for ‘that cup of coffee’ in the yard within the complex. And let me tell you it was one of the best I have had in a long time! Quite unassuming premises, inside rustic sacks of coffee beans stacked high, an old-fashioned coffee grinder (you know, the ones with a massive hand-turned wheel)….. the aroma was intoxicating!
What a start to our exploration of Britain’s businesses – so fantastic to actually see – and run by young guys. How enterprising, how brilliant, how British.
Before printing any misleading info I thought I’d better check my facts (not easy since I couldn’t even remember the name!) however these are the guys, Nude Espresso. If you love coffee, as I do, they are the true artisans and the premises were obviously the ‘power-house’. Slick cafes in London also available! (I also discovered I can buy their coffee online! I urge you to do the same.)
Inside the main exhibition we met about 50 exhibitors. Let me tell you every single one was amazed at the positivity, support and genuine desire to keep, and grow, our manufacturing. I overheard Mary Portas had been lecturing the ‘big ones’ earlier in the day!! In particular, I think M&S were singled out – oops!!
Her opening words were “I feel so proud to have been a part of this landmark event and hope that I have inspired others to follow in my footsteps and make a commitment to British manufacturing – as together we can save the knowledge and skills that are vital to this industry before it is too late.”
Scotland had great coverage on a stand. They have tried more than most to retain their traditions….and succeeded …more about Scottish businesses in a separate post later on. Quite a few well-established clothing factories were there, a sock manufacturer, SockMine, who was close to ‘giving up’, until his son suddenly decided to get on board. What an injection of delight and surprise for Dad!! Together they are creating a force to be reckoned with! So uplifting!
At least two silk weavers and tie makers, complete with demonstrations on what actually goes into hand-making a silk tie. Entirely made by hand. There is NO way the process can be rushed. Cut, folded, interlined, ends lined with perfectly mitred-points and hand-stitched, the entire length, using a ‘ladder-stitch’, virtually invisible, to ensure a perfect knot and drape. (I taught myself to make boy’s ties last year by examining one of my husband’s ties – believe me it is a labour of love!). So rewarding, though. Please remember my words if you happen to buy one for your son next season…..
I was delighted to see, and meet, the owners of Z Hinchliffe and the Very British Weaving Company. Two separate companies, both based in Huddersfield, (the centre of woollen excellence) yet collaborating for the greater good. Hinchliffe’s mill has been in Denby Dale for nearly 250 years (est. 1766)…..and still run by the same family! 5 generations, I think James and Robert (the two brothers who run it now) said. They spin the best cashmere, lambswool and angora in the world!
Supplying the top names in fashion knitwear, Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Ralph Lauren etc. they just go from strength to strength. They are the epitome of British manufacturing; state of the art machinery, excellent marketing and never compromising on the very top pinnacle of quality. When my business was bigger, in early 2000’s, I bought their Geelongora (lamswool/angora mix) for my knitwear so I can vouch for its sheer beauty and softness!
I currently use their pure lambswool……but having seen and touched the Geelongora again……well……I think I might….
The Very British Weaving Company was born from rescuing Marling and Evans from closure by its oversees owners in 2012. How fortunate and enterprising that a local family bought it! The new owners wanted to produce traditional cloth with a contemporary edge. How perfect to collaborate with Hinchliffe’s luxurious yarns. Cashmere and lambswool have been woven into the softest, most superb woollen cloth I have ever felt and seen. The colours are pure heaven! They are continuing to grow with investment in new machinery, innovative design and working closely with the Regional Growth Fund to access support for further infrastructure improvements and job creation. Textile/clothing businesses are encouraged to create their own cloth. They can go there and test out colours, designs and see for themselves what the finished product will look like, before committing to bigger quantities. Imagine watching your creation become reality! Where else can a manufacturer do that?? This is what is happening now. Fortunately (for little businesses like mine) they have designed a range of stock-supported woollens which may be bought in small quantities! (None of the 500m minimums demanded by the big names!!). I am looking forward to making some adorable traditional coats for our little clients….
One very special person I met was Annabel Hinchliffe. We got chatting over our fabulous coffee (thank you again Nude Espresso!). Turns out she is the wife of James (Hinchliffe), newest descendent of the Hinchliffe dynasty – keep up! – and together with her sister Caroline, in New Zealand, produce pure cashmere luxury!
Yes, using cashmere spun in their mill, of course! Caroline designs in NZ and Johnston’s of Elgin (also represented on the Scottish stand) knit their garments. Cashmere Affair. Breathtakingly beautiful!
My whole experience was one of pride for my country. Britain is doing what it has always done best!! But even better this time round!