Monday, 23 April 2012

Brand British: why are we not supporting it further?

The fashion world was left reeling last week at the shock announcement that British brand Aquascutum has collapsed into administration. Led by owner Harold Tillman, his buyout of the chain in 2009 had high hopes pinned on the luxury retailer success, but merely four years later, the brand has fallen foul to the the credit crunch.
 Of course, a British retailer closing down - the brand has shops and concessions dotted all over the country - is indeed a worry for the already gloomy economy. But my main concern here was echoed in a recent Mail on Sunday article, which suggested that the fashion industry had lost a big champion of the popular 'Brand British'.

To be clear what Brand British actually refers to, i'll explain. Brand British is the rising popularity of British clothing chains. Jaeger, Topshop/Man and brands like Burberry and Mulberg are all flying the flag for Britain, with each label and many others noticing an increasingly prosperous market in places like the Far East. Emerging economies like China just can't get enough of our fashion, and this has become apparent with the rising success of British clothing companies in these countries.

This has been helped too by the popularity of British Fashion Week, personalities like Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Kate and Pippa Middleton, as well as forthcoming events such as the Olympics and Diamond Jubilee.

Which is why the announcement that Aquascutum had called in the administrators was rather alarming. The brand has been at the forefront to the regeneration of the British industry, producing its garments in its own factory in Corby, Northamptonshire.

So why would it call in the administrators, despite the recent success of the British Brand? Well, that remains to be seen. Tillman was a high profile figure in the fashion industry, a friend of the 'retail ratpack' which includes Sir Philip Green and Sir Stuart Rose. He has the knowledge, and his success as chairman of the British Fashion Council highlights this, but only last week he sold Jaeger to a private equity firm.

My thoughts? I think the problem lies much deeper, and can be stemmed back to the government. Because in times of increasing publicity for events such as the Olympics and Jubilee, surely the concern should be on the British Brand.

Look at the Olympic sponsors, for example. Adidas were recently criticised for making the Olympic uniforms and kits in the Far East, allegedly in sweat shops. If you study the main sponsors for the games, you'll realise that very few are actually British companies. Next were awarded the official sponsorship for clothing, but you don't see them advertising 'Brand British'. Sainsburys, who are an official partner for the Paralympics, have made little contribution to the British Brand either.

Like most of these things, it's down to money. If you're going to produce anything anywhere these days, it's not going to be in the UK. Philip Green may claim he wants to move production to the UK, but realistically there are only 50,000 people working in the British clothing manufacturing industry, compared to the 1.2million workers in 1976.

As companies like Arcadia, Marks & Spencer and even Tesco aim to pick up on the success of more established brands like Alexander McQueen, Mulberry and Burberry who have made their successes in foreign countries, its ultimately a question of protecting your investment by cutting costs. Ultimately, this means production is only going to decrease in the UK, and closures of factories such as the Aquascutum one are a consequence.

It's a really big shame, and it's one people like Jeff Banks and Mary Portas, who recently announced her plan to regenerate the British High Street, are keen to point out. On a recent trip to New Zealand, I was amazed at the success of their 'Buy NZ' brand, which was used in supermarkets and chains across the country. It was refreshing to see the 'Made in New Zealand' logo on goods. When was the last time you saw that written on an item of clothing in the UK?

Of course, we're still going to keep on buying our Bangladeshi made clothes from Primark, but as the world looks to Britain for cutting edge fashion, maybe now is the time to ditch the cheap for the quality?

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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