On 43 Berwick Street, you’ll find Founder Luke Stenzhorn and British menswear brand Percival. They started up with the intention of making bespoke pieces for themselves alone. When it came to creating a capsule collection, everything was made here in England. “Our knitwear was made in Nottingham; the outerwear was made in London,” Stenzhorn tells GQ. “Even our shirting was made in Tottenham. Everything was 100% manufactured in England. It’s a great story.”
That’s the story part many British brands want to achieve, being able to manufacture clothes in Britain. But sometimes a home-grown story can infringe on quality. “Handmade garments are open to consistency. When you’re a small company consistency is so important because you want to build a customer base who will return because they love your product.”
Luke Stenzhorn is trying to create a British brand, but as he has found out, it’s not always possible (or the best).
Even when clothing shows the quality levels that parallel a consumer’s expectation, Stenzhorn admits it’s still tough. “Sometimes it is fantastic. Our knitwear was made in the UK, but it was about five times more expensive than what we’d pay in Europe for the same level of quality. It becomes hard to justify when it makes such an impact on the bottom line.”
Paying over the odds in any industry is seen as bad business and that should not be any different for British manufacturing. The stylistic lure of wanting to produce British is hindering the growth of businesses due to slow growth margins. Financial pressures are causing brands such as Percival and others to start thinking of Europe.
If I’m being honest, it’s nothing but the story.” – Luke Stenzhorn, Percival
British shoemaker Oliver Sweeney isn’t shying away from the fact they don’t manufacture everything on home turf. Alex Ward, head of design explains: “Some things aren’t possible to manufacture in Britain. We make a product-based decision when looking at where to make it, finding the best factories and using the best materials.” The brand doesn’t want to be seen hidebound by tradition and restricting themselves.
Although they do try to manufacture in Britain, it’s not a local product they want to create, it’s a quality product. “Where we can find great materials or components in the UK, we use those. Where we can find better elsewhere, we use that,” cobbler-in-chief Tim Cooper says. A garment rarely entices a consumer in based on its origin. “I think the most important thing in today’s world is the product is authentic and made with integrity – be this in Dundee or Greenville, South Carolina.” To allow a product to be as good as it can be in todays manufacturing world, a brand looks afield to a larger crop of factories outside of Britain that offer different techniques.
There are consumers who don’t put as much importance in premium products, but instead the want for a current trend instantly in the form of fast-fashion (the quick turnaround of styles for the high street). Ashley Morrison, Stylist at ASOS, understands the appeal of fast-fashion. “I think it’s a lot more popular than it used to be. It’ll continue to grow because things are always changing frequently. Why would you want to invest your money in something that’s not going to be relevant in a couple of weeks time?” Morrison questions. “The conversation of British brands doesn’t really get mentioned and so for the customer it’s more about the style and that’s what fast-fashion offers.”
Companies such as Oliver Sweeney and Percival don’t associate themselves with fast-fashion. Stenzhorn believes strides need to be made by the government to help those wanting to stay in Britain. “When we get something made in England, its made in England, every last detail,” he says. “I know of footwear companies who get their shoes made in India, but the soles are stuck on in England and that is enough of a process for it to be called ‘made in England’. If the law stipulates they’re the rules, they are not doing anything wrong. It’s just pulling the wool over people’s eyes.” As it stands, the last substantial change to a product is where goods are deemed to be manufactured and the trader determines that without regulation.
Heading out the door of Percival and into the bigger door of Selfridges, the beacon of department stores, there are buyers who choose what will be on the hanger each season. Ben Hurren is one of those select few. Ensuring everything ticks the boxes for the consumer is only partly of what is required. “If it isn’t made sustainably then we won’t do it. Every brand has to go through a Sedex check. Things that are produced in the Far East or the Middle East, they will go through checks to make sure there’s no child labour happening for example,” Hurren explains.
Hurren appreciates the other positives British brands are having. Travel away from the capital and north towards South Shields, the buyer describes the Barbour factory as “incredible”, producing more than just quality goods. “The factory they have in South Shields actually employs the majority of the population of South Shields,” Hurren says, “They provide jobs to a number of people that live in the city. It adds to the brand’s story of where things are made.”
And talking about a former buying role at Matches Fashion. Hurren mentions, “We bought an accessories brand called The North Circular and it made wool hats and scarves knitted by their team of ‘grannies’. On each of the tags there was the name of the lady who had knitted it and the date. It’s a nice little touch.”
Talking to different cogs in the British fashion industry, the opinions expressed are coherent when discussing British menswear. A British label made in the UK does add a little more to its story and there are some people that appreciate that. But only some. A British brand no longer needs to be made here, but instead an ethos for quality design and quality product. In the future when new incentives to manufacture in Britain arise, we may see more emphasis of a garment being ‘Made In Britain’.
To find out what British menswear means to some people, watch the video below with Amy Greenland of Harry Stedman.