Patrick Grant, the award-winning designer behind resurgent Savile Row tailor E Tautz, is best known for his modern take on traditional men’s tailoring. With his latest venture, however, he’s set his sights even higher: saving the UK textile industry.
Community Clothing was born when E Tautz’s manufacturer Cookson and Clegg near Blackburn (also a supplier to brands including Burberry) went bust, no longer able to cope with the downtime built into the fashion manufacturing cycle. Grant stepped in and bought the factory (he won’t talk numbers, but says the sum “wasn’t significant” as it was already losing money). He now plans to fill the lulls in production by selling a range of direct-to-consumer staples such as jeans and raincoats.
To fund the venture Grant has launched a Kickstarter campaign – a service that allows consumers to invest in products before the manufacturing process has begun – with the goal of reaching £75,000. After 10 days the campaign had reached just shy of £20,000 with another 20 days of fundraising still to go. If successful, Grant – who is busy filming the latest series of The Great British Sewing Bee – says he will “hit the button” almost immediately and will be able to honour his first orders as soon as April. “Some people in the fashion industry have been a bit slow to understand the Kickstarter process but I think they’re coming round,” he says.
So how precarious is the state of the UK textile industry? “There are some manufacturers who are doing well,” says Grant, “but there are a lot who are balanced on a knife edge. Seasonality is worse in fashion than almost anywhere else. In most industries you can predict demand and plan ahead – in fashion you have to start from scratch every six months with a whole new set of fabrics and designs. You end up with 12 to 16 weeks where factories are running on empty.
“In the downtime you can speculate and, say, produce a load of navy jumpers in the hope you can shift them, or you muddle through by making aprons or any other small jobs that come your way, but these aren’t enough to pay the bills. Companies can get stuck in a downwards spiral where they can’t afford the costs of training new staff and skills end up being lost.”
Grant says his vision for Community Clothing is to build on the limited initial range, which consists of jeans (men’s and women’s, both £49), harrington jackets (£79), and raincoats (£119). “Because we’re selling direct to customers, the prices are remarkably cheap and the quality is incredible – proper high-end British manufacturing.” Additions to the line are likely to include “socks, scarves, chinos – anything we can manufacture to a high standard with our partners. We want to be a big brand selling all types of clothes.”
He says since the campaign went live he’s been contacted by manufacturers working with other textiles including knitwear, and his vision is to build up a manufacturer’s cooperative. The majority of Community Clothing’s products will be sold online, both through its website and an eBay store: “We need to sell directly to consumers because we can’t open a network of retail outlets. It’s all about connecting consumers with manufacturers.”And if he doesn’t reach the Kickstarter target (which means all of the pledges become void and he receives nothing)? “We’ll get there by hook or by crook – because this is really, really important.”
Search for Community Clothing on kickstarter.com