Thursday, 21 February 2013

Why the High-street Can't Compete with 'Make and Mend'

Having recently completed a week's work experience at Lisa Comfort's successful sewing-cafe 'Sew Over It', participated at Newcastle's 'Make and Mend' market and visiting independent local boutique 'Made in Jesmond', I have seen for myself the social positives and community spirit which hand-craft, whether it be making dresses and accessories, or seeing the one-off pieces which independent crafters and designers have handmade brings. At 'Sew Over It', I observed customers coming into the sewing-cafe and sitting at machines next to people they had never met before, immediately striking up conversations over the free tea and cake. There were also women who started the 'Sewing for beginners' class, and by the end all decided to sign up to another class together, showing how socially bonding spending only three hours together in the sewing-cafe can be, and this could be partially what draws people towards craft. Similarly, it has been lovely to watch customers at the 'Make and Mend' market and 'Made in Jesmond' bond over their appreciation of hand-crafted gifts and beautiful vintage clothing, and to hear of their opinions and their own experience of sewing and vintage pieces which have been passed on to them, and it generates more thought-provoking and interesting conversation which the high-street with its focus on fast fashion cannot.

In my interview with Lisa Comfort, owner of 'Sew Over It', she says the increased interest in make and mend could be explained by "that feeling that it’s a past time that’s become lost, and people want to bring that back into today’s culture". This idea of nostalgia and bringing the past into the present is something which is also reflected through programs hosted by Kirstie Allsopp, such as 'Kirstie's Homemade Home', 'Kirstie's Handmade Britain' and 'Kirstie's Vintage Home', which Lisa has participated in. Although the growing popularity is likely to be partly down to the recession and people wanting that homely comfort associated with 'cooking, baking and sewing', it is also a skill which people fear is not getting passed on, as Lisa mentions "there are a lot of young people out there that are feeling that this is an important skill to learn", which is where she comes in with her sewing-cafe, passing on her sewing skills to beginners and customers with more advanced skills alike.

Yve Ngoo, owner of local boutique 'Made in Jesmond', which specializes in vintage and up-cycled handmade pieces, also believes that what she sells provides a more personal and connected experience than what you would usually buy from high-street chain stores. In buying pieces from local designer-makers, "You get quality, you get the personality of the maker", and there is the same allure of nostalgia which Lisa also points out. Yve believes that hand-made and vintage attracts an older audience due to the higher quality, and a younger audience who are looking for something unique. She also believes that it is important to learn traditional techniques such as 'needlework, sewing, felting' as 'that's where the quality comes from', but also to bring in contemporary techniques or materials to encourage creativity. An example of this are accessories she sells by designer-maker Jake Wilson Craw, where he applies traditional leather-work techniques to unwanted tyres, combining both old and new ideas to create something innovative with that same nostalgia and quality of something handmade.

This fusion of old and new is what makes 'make and mend' so special and unique, as you get all of the positive qualities of well-made pieces which support the local economy, by having either bought fabrics or products from local designers, and is also more responsible for workers and the environment as it doesn't involve mass shipping and factories, and is often quite a social experience. It is also the pleasure of owning something which is completely personal which nobody else will have, which may have a history behind it, or could be specifically tailored and personalized for you, which is something which the high-street will never be able compete with.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Made in Britain

Over the past week, I have came across a wealth of information on the growth of local production and on such a large scale that I felt compelled to mention it in my dissertation as a relevant trend, which is very recent and can only be a positive thing for businesses. The main catalyst for this trend is likely to be the legacy left by recent British cultural celebrations, such as the royal wedding, jubilee and the London Olympics, which director of Trend Bible Joanna Feeley states has resulted in 'an interest in British goods and what we stand for, as a nation, what we can sell and export'. The cultural interest along with economic reasons has had a knock-on effect on the manufacturing of our garments, and it is not only the UK which is looking at spending more on local manufacturing - in the US, 'consumers are also showing more interest in buying domestically-made products and proportionally, US-made is increasing' (WGSN - Sourcing in 2013: a look ahead).

Due to the economic crisis, there is also a consumer attitude where more people seem to be buying locally where possible, as many realize that in buying locally, they are supporting the local economy. There is also more transparancy now when it comes to the manufacturing of the products, with recently highlighted factory fires in Bangladesh and a growing awareness of 'sweat shops' and child labour' proving this. Costs are growing for production of apparel in Eastern areas, along with the rising cost of fuel, which J. Rubin states 'we must find nearly 20 million barrels per day of new production over the next five years simply to keep up global production at it's current level', making it more and more expensive to have products made abroad. Although in Britain it is still currently more expensive to have clothing manufactured here, the quality and craftsmanship is something which some consumers are willing to pay into. "We lost the battle for cheap, but we can win the battle of quality, credibility and ideas" states David Hieatt, an owner of just one of the many fashion businesses, along with big companies such as Topshop, ASOS, Debenhams and John Lewis, who is actively seeking out to use more UK manufacturers. The 'Made in Britain' revival is apparant in both these larger companies as well as new designers such as J. W. Anderson and House of Hackney, and also a growing interest in the revival of craft and hand-made bespoke pieces.

There are of course, as Feeley mentioned in her interview, 'some groups of people that will look for price over anything' and that 'there's an appetite for cheap goods', which currently outweigh the minority by a long shot. However she also mentions that with trends in general, the 'very small concept grows and grows and eventually becomes the big theme', so this could be applied to the ways in which we source our manufacturing. Only time will tell whether or not the change in production will continue to grow, as it depends on consumer demand and most people have no option other than to buy the cheapest clothes, but with an emphasis on local production from independent designers, heritage brands and department stores, hopefully demand will reach a 'tipping point' where it is more common for people to be wearing locally produced garments.

So how does local production relate to sustainable fashion? Well it actually relates very little, as the sustainability of the products would depend solely on how they are made and which fabrics are used. There is the argument that British craftsmanship is high-quality and therefore sutainable due to the products life-cycle, although it is likely other countries could also produce garments of the same quality. There is also that  in a lot of countries, this will mean more ethical practice, where people are working for reasonable wages and in reasonable conditions. Along with the huge amounts of fuel which would be saved from taking garments through several countries during different parts of production, a turn towards more locally produced garments can only be a positive thing in a move towards creating a more sustainable fashion cycle.