I’m not sure what the phrase Northern Powerhouse really means, but it does give me a giddy feeling to be working in the North West and Yorkshire where the industrial revolution was front and centre. I was told many years ago that Huddersfield was the silicone valley of it’s time and it annoys me when Southerners don’t know that Manchester was nicknamed Cottonopolis. Whilst we don’t want to return to the sweatshop days and child labour, I am hopeful that a rise in artisan businesses will kick start a resurgence in skills and making.
When I started The smockworks I had 2 clear requirements:
1.Denim to be woven in England
2.Products to be made in England
I was able to achieve one out of the two (read more about our denim here). But I’ve learnt a lot. Always ask But why not? Have a plan B. Never give up hope.
Watching The True Cost is shocking but expected. For too long the fashion industry has turned a blind eye to ethics and sustainability – profit being the only goal worth pursuing. Hurray for B Corp, which you can read about here. The true cost of garments has become so skewed at the upper and lower end that most of us don’t really know what we’re paying for.
So let me explain.
At The smockworks we work with highly skilled individuals who make a garment from start to finish, which ensures a high level of care and attention to detail. We call them our Smockworkers. Quality of the make is at the forefront for us. The smocking is marked out by hand and machine sewn with a high level of accuracy and skill. We have a sample with stunning hand smocking, which takes eight hours work – it’s waiting for the right moment. We’ve chosen to make the garments to order, to not hold stock so to minimise wastage. It means our customers will wait a bit longer, but we believe the wait is worth it. Our ambition is that as we grow we will be able to set up a small scale manufacture to facilitate ours and other artisan business that require high end make.
Our dresses aren’t quick to make – one can take up to 8 hours in total. One of my sample machinists told me it can take less than 20 minutes to make a pair of jeans in mass production. I read that in Bangladesh apparently the minimum wage for garment workers is around £48 per month. Labour costs could work out around 50p per pair of jean. This blows my mind. How much is 8 hours of your time worth?
Making in the UK is the way forward and it allows us to be in control of the quality of our items and build strong relationships with the skilled individuals who make for us. It creates opportunity. The true value of our dresses is reflected in the cost.