When Gerardine and I started our design careers over 30 years ago we quickly learnt that designers can’t get very far without expert and efficient manufacturing behind them.
Our first Red or Dead collection was manufactured in a freezing cold, old subdivided (by breeze blocks) mill in Blackburn. After Macy’s New York came into Kensington Market and placed an order for Gerardine’s first range of clothing, my mum bravely packed in her job, sourced some second hand industrial sewing machines from a local nurses uniform maker that had closed down, and set up the Red or Dead manufacturing unit in Roe Lee Mills. One of Gerardine’s sisters joined the team and along with a few local ladies. We were off and running.
We learnt so much about design and business through our little factory and when we started to design shoes a couple of years later without the support of a wonderful chap, Mr Everard of Frank Wright Footwear in Kettering, who taught us so much about footwear and helped us for years as we expanded and needed new sources of manufacturing, Red or Dead would not have become the household name that it became in the 80s and 90s.
At HemingwayDesign today, we try our utmost to make our products in the UK. It makes sense to do that. Having a close relationship with a manufacturer really helps to achieve products that are fit for purpose and look exactly as you hoped for when you imagined them. Having a manufacturer who is almost always on hand means that you have an indispensible expert as part of your team as invariably the manufacturer can add something to the design concept that will add to its saleability. There is the sustainability argument and the security of supply (we are no longer as important to China as their home market continues to grow) and, whilst its stating the bleedin’ obvious, manufacturing means jobs and boy we need those.
We seemed to go through a period where making stuff in a factory was not seen as great career option. Maybe that attitude comes from people who have never experienced the joy and sense of pride and achievement that we often experience when we go round the factories where our products are made.
The smell of fresh cut timber where our ShackUp sheds are made at Shires in Wisbech always puts us on a high.The modern G Plan sofa factory in Melksham, Wiltshire where the beautifully crafted G Plan Vintage range is made is a joy to behold. Every time we go, there is a new process being tried out and new ways of reducing packaging. There are craftsmen spending weeks on ensuring that the comfort levels are so high that you don’t want to get off their sofa’s.
A couple of weeks ago we were at the Wedgewood Factory in Stoke where we are embarking on a new product range.
Seeing the modern automated kilns juxtaposed with the detailed handwork of skilled artists who clearly loved what they were doing was a moving experience. Try telling these men and women that a job working in front of a computer screen trading money is a great way to spend your working day.
Making and manufacturing is part of what we are as human beings and did. We fight hard enough to prevent so much of it being lost to Britain over the past decades. We have seen the end result in the North East Lancashire towns that Gerardine and I grew up in as they became decimated as their raison d’etre, their soul, textile manufacturing, evaporated at pace.
Sometimes society and countries can make a mistake and ours has been to forget about the joy of making and to an extent denigrate or at least, not champion manufacturing. Mistakes can be rectified, the publics appreciation of quality over price can be nurtured and we can support a generation of entrepreneurs, crafts people and makers who “get” this joy.