Opinion: Claire Franks on made-in-Britain brands

Lingerie and swimwear business guru Claire Franks, founder of Intimate Apparel Consultancy, offers her regular insight into lingerie retail, fitting and design.

Check out the lingerie you are wearing: where was it made? Mine states the Philippines… But does it really matter?

The current lack of products manufactured in Britain is a subject that has recently been at the forefront of the media; over the last year, with the London Olympics and Golden Jubilee, the world was interested in buying anything championing the British flag and as a result more and more interest has been placed on “Made in GB” with retail giants such as JLP and M&S leading the way and highlighting many such products. So, in the scheme of things, how important is it for us as retailers to consider this as an option?

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After 30 years of de-industrialisation, which has resulted in UK manufacturing declining by over 60%, the government still maintains it is enthusiastic about increasing domestic production and a year ago reduced corporation tax from 28% to 26%.

But companies that want to have their production lines in this country get little other help: with UK wages high and skills low it’s tough and, frankly, far easier to go to produce in Europe. But what do the consumers really think? A recent survey conducted on 1000 people by One Poll in the UK, gave some key insights.

Of those surveyed, 81% think production of British products should predominately be in the UK rather than outsourced to other countries, and 86% think it is important to support the UK manufacturing trade. Meanwhile, 65% of respondents feel disappointed about the decline of British manufactured products.

Mary Portas, creator of Kinky Knickers – whose products are still made in Britain – also believes consumers are willing to pay more for British products, and this is supported by the results of another survey, which showed that 56% of respondents said they would pay more for a British manufactured product, with over half willing to pay up to 10% more and a third saying they would pay between 11% and 20% more. However the hard fact is that UK manufactured garments would be closer to 50% higher.

So with all this said, what made-in-UK lingerie brands are there for us to buy or consider? They tend to be the smaller, start-up brands choosing to manufacture in the UK because production minimums are much lower and development of patterns, fit and design is far easier to manage. The offset, of course, is that the cost of producing garments is far higher and as a result these brands tend to be more top end and lower volume.

Popular UK brands such as Kinky Knickers, Sweetling, ethical brand Who Made Your Pants, Kiss Me Deadly, Dirty Pretty Things, MC Lounge and Lascivious, as well as high-street brands Agent Provocateur , ASOS and Figleaves, all participate at different levels in UK manufacturing, as do Pretty Polly and Aristoc hosiery. There are of course many more, but for buyers, finding and identifying them can be hard. New design and manufactured-in-GB brands like Harlow & Fox find getting exposure to the retailers extremely difficult as a result. In past seasons a very high percentage of brands showing at London’s The Lingerie Collective trade show were made in Britain, and MODA, a three-day event held in Birmingham, tries each season to create a focus area to highlight this category but so far has not managed to get enough support, due to lack of funds or grants to help these brands attend domestic trade shows.

So does it really matter where it is made? Over recent years there has been huge investment in the latest manufacturing techniques in China, making the country an intimate-apparel manufacturing hub in its own right. Meanwhile in the UK we have become a centre of excellence in producing amazing British designers, training and developing technical skills and becoming dominant and important globally, due mainly to De Montfort University leading the way in Intimate Apparel Contour design. That’s something we should all be very proud of.

The UK department of Trade and Investment is even attempting to build on Britain’s reputation abroad for creativity and innovation. Last week, the department launched ‘Great weeks,’ a series of international trade visits designed to take British luxury industries into emerging markets.

Made in GB is a desirable point of difference. It carries with it a reduced carbon footprint, supports local communities and is ultimately environmentally, ethically important. It is also a selling point and carries a high level of consumer desirability with it, especially to international markets. In an effort to support this growing made-in-Britain industry, should you as retailers consider creating a small section in your shop with some UK-made items? I think it’s an option for a great promotion, especially if other retailers in the town to join in. Why not take advantage of the still-patriotic mood and have a Made-in-GB week – with a traditional street party to finish it off!




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