Best Of British
Stylishly Supporting UK PLC - The Chic Geek Loves UK Fashion
There has been a lot of noise recently about British-made product, and while we whole-heartedly support this, most of it is aimed at the more traditional, tweedy-jacket side of the market.
If we’re really going to bring British manufacturing back, we need to support items of clothing we wear a lot of, for example jeans.
While we don’t necessarily have the history in denim, like America, this is a product that transcends age and we buy in the millions.
Small pockets of British denim manufacturers have sprung up offering jeans that aren’t exactly cheap, but can easily compete with the big brands, who are producing in cheaper countries while still charging us a premium for the name.
Below are the brands pioneering truly British denim and the more we buy, the bigger they get and the cheaper they become. Simple.
Hiut - Founded by David Hieatt, who originally started the ethical, outdoor brand Howies, Hiut – pronounced hyatt like the hotel – is taking denim home to Cardigan in Wales. Cardigan was originally the home of British denim producing 35,000 pairs a week for people like Marks & Spencer. When the big shift to China came, the factory was closed and nearly 10% of the town, 400 people, became unemployed. David decided he wanted to tap into the skills of the former workers. Literally years of making jeans had made these employees into master craftspeople.
Each jean contains a unique ‘history tag’. The life of the jeans start with 6 photos of them being made and once you’ve registered your jeans you can update photos of where you went and what you did in them. If they get passed onto somebody else, their life can live on through the internet.
There are two main fits – slim and regular in a choice of organic or slim fitting five pocket jean made from raw organic denim from Turkey or Japanese selvedge. The pocket linings are made from super tough ecru twill. The back pocket is internally lined with twill for extra strength. The coin pocket is designed to fit an iPhone 5. The pocket edge seams are bound for a stronger and cleaner finish with copper rivets throughout and one signature red ‘owl’ rivet on the back pocket.
Albam - Albam was a pioneer of making in the UK when they started in 2006, way before it was a fashionable thing to do. Where they could, they used British factories and one of the products which has always been British were the jeans.
Albam use a 13oz Vintage Rope dyed indigo denim woven in Japan especially for Albam in the outskirts of Kobe. Once woven, the denim is shipped over to the Midlands where the jeans are constructed in small batches just 30 miles from Albam's studio in Nottingham.
Right - Albam – Slim Leg Jean - £85
Tender - Tender is a British company, founded my William Kroll. Following a secondment in Kojima learning the denim trade, William brought back his experience and created the brand Tender calling on the traditional skill set of British craftsmen.
Tender has its roots in antique workwear and machinery, especially from the Great British Steam Age. The important face of Tender is the nurture which is put into the clothes; in their research, design, manufacture and wear. Tender products are designed to be worn hard but with respect to the strong provenance and stories that are found within the garment.
As production numbers are very small - often only a handful of pieces in any one style, the techniques used are not scaled for mass-manufacturing. This means that many garments are hand cut, and automatic jigs are not used. Rather, each garment or product is the result of the maker's skill, and will be slightly different to the next one. While smooth assembly line production might give cleaner, more perfect, results, the 'perfection of imperfection' can only be achieved through people making each item one by one.
Above - Tender 129 Slim Jeans in Blue - £330
Fallow - Fallow started with the desire to offer something founders Bronagh Keegan and Martin Wedderburn felt was missing in the UK marketplace, a good simple high-end jean.
They have sourced selvedge denim from the renowned Kaihara Mill in Japan and shipped it back to the UK, where it’s cut and hand-made in the Midlands to Fallow’s exacting designs. One of their main aims is to make everything in the UK, and they hope this will go some tiny way towards rekindling the dying embers of British Manufacturing.
Right - Fallow Slim Jeans - £165
When it rains, it pours. And when it pours, it’s good news for British wax-coat maker Barbour. We took a trip to Newcastle to see where these famous jackets are still being made and to get an insight into the history of the brand and its future expansion.
Left - The Barbour factory in South Shields, busy at work producing your next jacket
Barbour was founded in 1894 in the Market Place in South Shields, just outside of Newcastle, selling clothes for the workers of the north-east. Situated on the mouth of the Tyne river, South Shields was the place to perfect waterproof clothing. Originally covered in fish oil (smelly much!), fishermen, miners and drayman wore Barbour to keep themselves dry. Barbour moved on to tar and then finally wax as a water resistant coating.
Right - ‘Uncle Harry’s’ Coat 1910 - The oldest jacket in Barbour’s archive. Affectionately called ‘Uncle Harry’s’ coat, it was passed down through many generations of the Macpherson-Fletcher family before being returned to Barbour
Today, it is run and owned by Dame Margaret Barbour, the 5th generation of the Barbour family and Barbour's headquarters and factory are still proudly located in Simonside, South Shields.
They make 600 jackets a day, 3000 a week or 130,000 - 140,000 a year at the UK factory. All wax products are made in the UK. The other Barbour ranges are made all over the globe. There are 4 production lines and a 5th is being added in September, creating 65 new jobs to fulfill the demand for 'Made in Britain'. The average age of workers in the factory is now 47, so they have established the Barbour Academy to train young people in the art of making a Barbour jacket.
The jackets start with Millerain fabric, made in Scotland. Up to 100 layers of fabric are cut at a time into the templates of the jackets. The fiddly bits, like the collars and plackets are done in a separate section, while the production line produces and constructs the main elements on the jackets. Everything is checked throughout the process on the 125 different styles that they make.
Left - The templates of a jacket on up to 100 layers of Millerain fabric
Barbour sells in 40 countries worldwide. It has huge potential. It’s not even in the Australian or Chinese markets yet. China alone could easily double production in the UK, if they get it right.
There’s also a facility at the Barbour factory where you can return your jacket to have it rewaxed. This is recommended once a year and costs £30, including return postage. You can drop it off at any Barbour store or send it direct to the South Shields factory. They can also repair jackets and replace zips; no task is too great for Jean and her repairing crew. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family use this service.
While we were there we were lucky enough to be given a sneak-peek of the new Norton & Sons/Barbour collaboration which we will fill you in about later in the year, when it is released for the Autumn/Winter 2013 season.
Barbour means many things to many people. From the Sloanes of Chelsea to the hipsters of East London, the Barbour has been embraced as a truly British product. Barbour's second biggest market, after the UK, Germany, requires the Union Flag as a standard on all product.
Left – Ursula Jacket 1940 - Submariner commander Captain George Philips was so impressed by the weatherproof protection of his officer’s all in one motorcycling suit that he asked the Barbour factory in South Shields to make a two piece prototype. The result was the Ursula jacket and trousers which became standard issue for submariners throughout the Second World War.
Barbour are growing rapidly in the US, so things look bright for Barbour. A company manufacturing on a large scale in the UK, they are the template of a traditional brand making contemporary and desirable product. One thing is for sure, it's always going to rain, so we'll always need Barbour.
Below - A jacket being rewaxed
More images below
Cufflinks should be like little works of art. Practical as well as beautiful, the cufflink is an important part of male jewellery, and as such says a lot about your personality. We wanted to highlight DEAKIN & FRANCIS, founded in 1786, who design and manufacture the world’s finest cufflinks. Their English workshops, based in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, produce fine quality handmade jewellery in precious metal, incorporating vitreous enamel and fine gemstones.
Left - The eyes move and everything! - Deakin & Francis - White Diamond Skull Cufflinks - £8855
The firm was founded by Benjamin Woolfield in 1786, later to be joined by Charles Washington Shirley Deakin, who together with C.W.B Moore traded as Deakin and Moore from 1848 – 1879. Upon Moore’s retirement, Stephen Deakin joined his uncle Charles and the firm became Deakin and Nephew 1879- 1881. Charles Deakin retired in 1881 and Stephen was joined by his brother-in-law John H Francis and the style changed again to Deakin and Francis, becoming a limited company in 1902.
Right - The factory in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter
The Francis line ceased with the death of Captain J H Francis in the First World War, and the company is now managed by the 7th generation of the Deakin family, James & Henry Deakin who’s father is the great, great nephew of the co-founder CWS Deakin. Throughout this period of more than 200 years, the business has never veered from the high standards of craftsmanship and quality that are its tradition. The company is justly proud that it is still able to offer the very best of British jewellery and silverware produced in its own workshops and supplied to many customers, both at home and overseas.
Over the last 200 years the team of manufacturing jewellers and silversmiths at Deakin & Francis has created over 1000 cufflink designs for business people, celebrities and members of royalty worldwide.
Left - What we're calling the 'Monica' cufflink! Deakin & Francis - Gold Cigar and Matches Cufflinks - £3295
Styles include gold and silver cufflinks, through to full dress sets in platinum and diamonds. Deakin & Francis creations range from funky and fun to classic collections.
Stockists include Harrods.
We love a factory visit here at TheChicGeek. It’s a little bit like seeing a friend’s home for the first time; the brand comes to life in a full 360 degree immersion.
We took a visit to the small village of Wollaston, Northamptonshire, to see the home of Dr Martens. This workhorse of a boot has become such a part of British life, that it’s hard to imagine life before it.
Dr Martens originally started out as the Griggs family firm, who have been making boots since 1901 in Northampton, the home of British shoemaking.
Left - The original Dr Maertens
Bill Griggs sat in his Cobbs Lane office one day in the late 1950s flicking through an issue of Shoe and Leather News magazine, only for his eyes to fall upon an advert by a German duo looking for overseas partners for their revolutionary new air-cushioned, ‘Air Wair’ sole. Munich-based Dr Maertens and his university friend Dr Funck invented an air-cushioned sole to make work shoes more comfortable and were looking for like-minded innovators to produce it with. Griggs contacted Dr Maertens, the name was anglicized to Dr Martens, and voila! A legend was born on April 1st, 1960.
Right - The Griggs family home is still there
Manufacturing of Dr Martens returned to the Wollaston factory in 2007 and now accounts for 2% of the total boots made - (60,000-70,000 are made worldwide every year). Though this Made in the UK amount is small, it has doubled in the past few years. Here they make the ‘Crafted’ collections and special made-to-order or designer collaborations like last year’s A.Sauvage collection, that we loved so much.
Left - Our favourite boot from the current 'Crafted' Made in the UK Collection - Pietro - £310
All Dr Martens are stitched and glue is only used to hold the pieces together before they are stitched. What makes a Dr Martens special is the row of 3 perfectly stitched parallel lines on the sides of each show, put on by an American machine called the Puritan and the Air Wair rubber sole which is fused to the bottom with heat.
While we were there, they were busy making the new collection of brogues using British menswear fabrics and also the super polished and handsome Pietro boot (pictured).
More pictures of our day spent at the home of Dr Martens are below