Buy British

Retail genius Mary Portas is back with a new Channel Four series ‘Mary’s Bottom Line’. If you haven’t watched it yet I urge you to do so: go go go! 

In recent years, the Queen of Shops has gone from saving individual boutiques and transforming charity shops with her ‘Living and Giving’ concept, to going undercover to investigate the lack of customer service at some of the nation’s biggest retailers, and launching her own clothing, footwear and accessories collection. Last year Mary was commissioned by David Cameron to lead an independent review of the ailing High Street and outlined her 28 recommendations in The Portas Review (December 2011).

Her latest mission really struck a chord with me. When launching her own fashion line, Mary aimed to ensure it was as British-made as possible, but soon realised this was a major impasse.

Britain was once a major manufacturing centre in world trade, with every step of the manufacturing process taking place on British soil: our world-class clothing industry being one example. However, with cheaper manufacture overseas, imports soon exceeded exports and our skilled manufacturers shut their factories and stopped producing goods in this country. Mary wants to kick-start the UK’s clothing industry by manufacturing every woman’s wardrobe staple: knickers! 

Middleton near Manchester used to be a centre of manufacturing industry but now the factories lie empty. Mary has re-opened the sewing room floor of Headen and Quarmby, established in 1935 and once one of the eleven thriving textile factories in Middleton: the nightwear manufacturer is the only one remaining. The factory used to produce thousands of items per week before it was forced to send production abroad when competition from cheap imports dominated. To start her production line, Mary recruits eight apprentices and trains them up with manufacturing experts to make the products at Headen and Quarmby.

…and that’s as far as we’ve got! The final product is on sale at Liberty London and Mary tweeted earlier that the “Kinky Knickers” will be stocked in John Lewis, Boots, ASOS and House of Fraser. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the story and really hope this all-British underwear becomes a success. I have a sneaking suspicion it will be with the Queen of Shops behind it! 

With rising manufacturing costs in Asia, Mary believes now could be our chance to shine. Furthermore, all eyes are on Britain’s fashion industry at the moment, with the latest crop of design talent combining creativity and commerciality. However, the manufacture of these clothes takes place abroad. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if these emerging designers could produce their designs in the UK too, with every stage from a sketch on the page to the finished clothing taking place on home soil?

We’re constantly being told to “Buy British” and pick up home-grown produce in our supermarkets, but when it comes to the clothes we wear it’s still a different story. I think it’s time to change that. And I think our generation is the one that needs to get behind it. I feel like the tide is turning and the country as a whole needs to re-think its priorities, whether that’s saying yes to paying a few pounds more for our knickers to be made in the UK rather than one pound imported pairs on the High Street (that frankly lose shape after their first wash anyway), or campaigning to bring back former industries. I don’t know much about economics, but surely creating jobs is one way to reduce unemployment; our once-thriving textiles industry could be a place to start. 


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