Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Fashion Enter

How do you set up a factory in the UK with no experience of manufacturing?

When I started WMYP back in 2008 it’s fair to say I had (and still do have) a healthy level of naivety. I’d never been into a garment factory but knew how to sew (a bit, mostly square things like curtains) had my own (domestic) sewing machines and though, hey, how hard can it be? (more on the Dunning Kruger effect here…)

We’ve been merrily reinventing the wheel here in Southampton since then. And we’ve done ok – we’ve had some great experts (and some less great ones – the problem with not being an expert is now always knowing when people are flannelling you…) come and advise us and our production line looks like a production line, and has reporting protocols and QA checks built in – we’ve a robust model built from the ground up, we make great pants – it works. But there’s nothing like seeing someone else do it to really learn. There is still manufacturing in the UK but it wasn’t until August 2014 that I went to see another factory. I went to Fashion Enter.

Fashion Enter is a not for profit, social enterprise, which strives to be a centre of excellence for sampling, grading, production and for learning and development of skills within the fashion and textiles industry. Based in north London it also has a Stitching Academy which teaches young people the technical skills to be part of garment manufacture. It teaches and it makes for ASOS and many others.

I have to say that I was almost in tears standing in the factory. It felt like what we might be like when we grow up. It’s *stunning* – if garment manufacture facilities are your thing! Beautiful, organised, efficient. This is where designing your workspace pays dividend. Before you put needle to thread, you plan that cutting is *here* and overlock is *here* and lockstitch is *here* so that movement isn’t wasted, flow is created – the output from all activity is maximised without asking more of a person – just by altering, organising, managing their surroundings. I, hawk-like, took in everything – the metal detectors to make sure no errant pins are left in a garment before shipping; the trimming area where work is done standing (we do ours sitting), the ‘horses’ that carry threads and fabrics from station to station. I wanted to move in.

I just stood and stared for a long time, took lots of pictures and tried to memorise everything and then was fortunate to have a few minutes with Jenny who runs it all.

Jenny is amazing. She knows everyone’s name and I saw her be shop-floor-hands-on and strategic-plan-high-level and warm-advisor-to-me in the same day. There were tears (mine). To be told that she, like me, loves her work but that it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done – there’s real support in knowing you’re not alone. Jenny listened to me talk about what we’re doing, and what we want to do. She gave me great advice on some practical next steps – and steps after those. And possibly more valuable than any of that she hugged me and told me ‘you can do it. you’ve got the personality’.

To be told that by someone who *is* doing it was like a shot of adrenaline, a hug, a cup of hot chocolate, a firework and a gold star in one go. I came away determined to put into practice everything I learned and to go back and learn more – and I will. If you’re a designer looking for a great factory in the UK to make up your garments, or if you want to learn more about your trade, do check them out

 

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