Eric Musgrave has been writing about the fashion business since 1980. A multi-award-winning editor of Drapers, the industry’s magazine, he is also the author of Sharp Suits, a pictorial history of men’s tailoring. While working at trade body UK Fashion & Textile Association in 2010 he set up Let’s Make It Here , a free-to-use database of UK-based suppliers, which remains one of the most comprehensive listings of domestic producers.In this opinion column he argues that individual consumers have the power to see manufacturers in Scotland and the rest of the British Isles prosper or not.
Ask many consumers how much clothing and textiles is made in the UK and a large percentage might guess at “nothing at all”. Ask industry people in the know and the likely answer is “more than people think, but not as much as we’d like”.
Despite the received wisdom that everything we wear is made in China or Bangladesh, or Turkey or Italy if you are going upmarket, the British Isles is dotted with companies employing highly skilled, creative and passionate folk who produce cloth, clothing, footwear, accessories, components and all manner of esoteric bits and bobs that most of us take for granted in our wardrobe. Statistics are dodgy, but there may be as many as 100,000 people still working in the clothing and textile trades. They deserve our support.
A huge problem is that most consumers are not aware of what’s still made here and the businesses themselves are not all that brilliant at promoting themselves. Let’s be kind and put it down to natural British reserve. We don’t like to boast. We don’t like to shout about our expertise and achievements. But what is produced on our islands is lauded and revered across the world: Japan, the USA and Europe are vital export markets for British producers.
and their related events are providing long-overdue publicity to the hundreds of makers who produce desirable, useful, lovely things here in the UK.
I salute the attitude of retailers like Stewart Christie, which are providing a platform for British products. This is not a sad exercise in nostalgia, or a desire to see us all dress like 1930s fashion plates. It is a realisation that home-made quality products abound across the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic if you take the time to look and are not driven by a crazy imperative to get something for next to nothing.
Scotland is particularly blessed in this regard, whether you consider the Harris Tweed weavers on Lewis, premium cashmere knitters in Hawick and the Borders, leathergoods specialists or tartan producers. A video I fronted for the national promotional body Textile Scotland gives an insight to the amazing work being done in the land of the saltire.
For those of us, like me, who believe in supporting, nurturing and promoting British manufacturing, recent months have not been very uplifting. Robert Noble, the Peebles-based woollen mill, has closed. It had been on its March Street site since 1884 but could trace its lineage back to 1666. The order book has been acquired by Magee, a family-owned weaver in Donegal, Ireland, which is pleasing, but the jobs in the Borders have gone.
Hawick Knitwear, a cashmere specialist, is in administration and most of its 180 employees have been let go. And on Lewis, the Carloway Mill, the smallest of the three main producers of Harris Tweed, is on the brink of financial collapse, despite having had investment from a Chinese concern a couple of years ago. Some 27 jobs are at risk here.
Oddly enough, these depressing stories are helpful in that they shine a spotlight on British, or specifically Scottish, manufacturers. They remind us of what we have and what we have to lose. The sad reality is that once a factory or a mill closes, it is destined never to re-open. The jobs, the skills, the knowledge and the community of employees is dispersed and dissolved.
There is no silver bullet, no grand plan to preserve British manufacturing. It requires a lot of people doing a little bit – consistently – to preserve what we have. Stewart Christie is doing its part by sourcing as much of its wares as possible from the UK. Additionally, it is stimulating and challenging the next generation via a competition for Year 1 HND Textiles students at Edinburgh College to design a waistcoat appropriate to be sold through the shop.
This is a worthy and relevant attempt to encourage the young folk to embrace the craft tradition of their predecessors, to work with British cloths on a quintessential British garment. Those of us who care about our industry know that we cannot expect any hand-outs or particular interest from government in Holyrood or Westminster. Anything we want to achieve, we will have to do it ourselves.
So, if the Made in Scotland or Made in UK label means something to you, look out for it, do your research, and be considerate about what you buy, and from whom. If enough of us don’t use our skilled makers, we will lose them. And when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Ian was brought up in Fife, but finally settled in Edinburgh, with his wife and two sons. Before becoming a full-time novelist, he had a rather wide variety of character building jobs, such as a grape picker, taxman, alcohol researcher, hi-fi journalist, college secretary and punk musician-to name but a few. Now his immense passion and knowledge for music and writing go hand in hand. We had the great pleasure of Ian's company in the Oxford Bar for a quick pint and a catch up, after measuring him up in the store for his first Stewart Christie bespoke three-piece, in a soft grey lambswool tweed to be completed for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where he will present various events in true Scottish style.
Name? Ian Rankin
Do you usually complete your work and then get it published or have you got some novels that you’ve secretly shelved that you may finally release at a later date?
I've only got one unpublished novel - my very first. Unlikely ever to see the light of day. It was a not very funny comedy set in a Highland hotel. There is one novel, Westwind, which was published, but I was unhappy with. I've never allowed it to be reissued.
Very interested to know what you are currently working on that we may look forward to?
This is a sabbatical year. I am tinkering and pottering, but not doing a novel. A few short stories, meetings about film and TV. Travelling to festivals far and wide to promote Inspector Rebus' 30th anniversary.
It’s incredible that Rebus has been translated into 22 different languages, have you ever read them in other languages? We understand you resided in France for a while. It must be quite a strange feeling to see them in French, not that you would read it, but is there anything that would make you read any of your novels again once you've written them?
Translated into 35 languages - I need to update the information available online! I lived in France for six years but it wasn't translated into French until after I'd moved back to the UK, which was a bit annoying. I only ever reread my novels when asked by my publisher to provide the introduction to some new edition.
Where do you find your inspiration in Edinburgh for such crime stories? Do you have a few "favourite haunts" you like to go to and write, or are you one of those writers who is constantly inspired throughout the day, like Alexander McCall Smith, who is forever writing?
I write seldom. I'm certainly no McCall Smith. The man is a machine. I hang out in pubs, especially the Oxford Bar. I eavesdrop on conversations. I go for drinks with retired cops. I am also a news junkie, and often get ideas from newspaper reports and such like.
We know you have a great passion for music. In a recent interview with Tim Burgess at the book festival, we experienced your immense knowledge of artists and albums, it was an interesting talk. Would you host or partake in more of them this year?
Like most crime writers, I am a frustrated rock star. Putting so much music in my books has led me to form friendships with a host of musicians, which is a lovely bonus. I will be interviewing at least one musician at this year's festival - but it's under wraps at the moment.
We spent the day with Dominic Le Moignan, a London based Actor and Creative Director up Arthur's Seat to test out the performance of his bespoke three-piece in a rifle green barathea.
Scottish comedian and formally BBC Radio Scotland presenter, of 18 years', Fred MacAulay is a long standing and valued Stewart Christie customer. We spent the afternoon asking him a few questions about the comedy circuit and his lesser known passion for outdoor pursuits.