Check the label in your clothes and what does it say? I’m going to guess it doesn’t say ‘Made in Britain’, but made thousands of miles away.
However, one of fashion’s greatest re-branders, Mary Portas, is on a mission to restore Britain to the manufacturing powerhouse it once was 20 years ago, quite literally, from the bottom up.
Prior to 1990, Britain was a world leader in the manufacturing industry from steelworks to textiles, exporting just as much as we imported. But over the last thirty years, we have seen a huge decline in manufacturing, choosing cheaper overseas labour to cut costs, leading to us turn our backs on our own industry.
This comes at a high price for the British economy. As statistics stated on the Channel 4 documentary following Portas’ perusal, since the year 2000, 52% of textile manufacturing jobs in the UK have been lost, and as a result nearly 90% of our clothes are now made outside of the UK.
This now accumulates to a staggering £98 billion deficit of imports to exports, which looks set to increase with the rising costs of oil, foreign labour and cotton prices, none of which show signs of slowing down soon.
However, this may all be set to change. Consumers today are becoming far more money savvy and show a desire to invest in products that have the quality to last. Cheap products aren’t sustainable enough and are shortly thrown away, leading to a build-up in expense. Customers are now focused on the real value of something, and that includes the quality of manufacturing and the conditions for the workers.
By investing in British products, we are investing in ourselves. According to this year’s Budget, the government plans to spend £19 billion on industry, agriculture and employment. And as stated in point two of the growth report, ministers aim to “make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business” despite being the sector receiving the least amount of money, especially when considered in comparison to the £46 billion it owes in debt interest alone.
Perhaps then it is business people like Portas, who will help to bring money back into the British textile industry and economy. Looking to recreate the manufacturing heyday, Portas is launching her own brand of underwear, cheekily and self-proclaimed “saucily” named Kinky Knickers.
The production factory is based in the town of Middleton, Greater Manchester, which is one of the poorest towns in the country, with the population 75% more likely to be on benefits than any other UK town.
The venture itself aims to give back to the British economy, but also to give a sense of pride and self-worth to the newly employed eight apprentices, many of whom have been unemployed for several years.
The lace needed for the product to be truly 100% British, is sourced in Nottingham from the last remaining stretch lace manufacturer in the country, before being created into no VPL lace knickers retailing for £10, and everything from the care label and packaging to the work force is based and created in Britain.
Now that may seem to some a little too much to pay for knickers, but a similar design no VPL lace knicker retails for £25 and upwards in Harvey Nichols, while at the other end of the spectrum Primark sell underwear from £1 and they are definitely not made in Britain.
For the sake of research, I have had a look at the care labels in my own underwear and ashamedly the majority of it says ‘Made in China’, with a lot of it cost around the same price as Portas’ Kinky Knickers.
I would definitely agree that if you are fortunate enough to be able to spend a bit more on clothes and underwear, then £10 is an accessible price especially if it benefits not only our economy, but also the people of Britain, which is always a valuable investment.
In an interview with channel4.com, Portas expresses her desire for her brand to expand globally, yet stay true to its roots over here. In the next five years she hopes to expand her workforce, open more factories and for the current apprentices to still be with Kinky Knickers but in higher positions.
One of the main selling points behind the brand was to get Britain back to work so that people could gain a sense of pride, giving people a sense of purpose and a reason to get up in the morning which positively reduces unemployment figures. So it comes as no surprise that big name companies got where Portas was coming from and invested in the brand.
Kinky Knickers now retail in Liberty, Boots, Marks and Spencer, ASOS, John Lewis and House of Fraser, and for £10 a pair they promise to be a worthwhile investment as well as a pretty addition to your underwear collection. So, in the interest of helping our own country, be proud to be British, and don a pair of Kinky Knickers.