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Angel Cashmere Blog

Our new production house...

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So excited to let you know that our future stock will be MADE IN UK.  

My brother and his business partner made the courageous decision to open their new cashmere production house in London.  Their story was recently picked up by The Times:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/workinglife...

You can read the full article here:

A knitwear factory in London may run against years of conventional thinking, but now may be the time to make a move

There are daring business decisions and there are leaps of faith. Those brave enough to move manufacturing back to Britain from China to open a textiles factory might, logically, set up shop in Manchester, Bradford or the Scottish borders. Chris Murphy and Jamie O’Neill picked a city that, they claim, has not had an operating knitwear factory since the Second World War.

At first glance, little seems to be in their favour. There are very few residual industry skills in Haringey, north London, but there are what Mr O’Neill admits are eye-wateringly high costs. Then there is the economic tide of the past 30 years, particularly in a trade virtually wiped out in the 1990s when companies looked for cheaper options in Asia.

Indeed, Messrs Murphy and O’Neill were part of that wave, heading to China on behalf of Dawson International, once Britain’s biggest cashmere company, which collapsed in 2012 after 140 years in business. They travelled out as experts who trained Chinese workers to meet the standards expected of luxury brands including Pringle and Ballantyne, and set up factories.

Yet now they have come home to do the same thing in reverse. Instead of taking British expertise and technology overseas in search of cheap labour, they have brought with them Chinese machinery and Chinese knowhow to sow — or perhaps sew — the seeds for their new venture, the Albion Knitting Company, which makes £250 sweaters and top-of the range cardigans for Nicole Farhi, Jaeger, Chloé and Hardy Amies.

The decision was down, in part, to a simple yearning for home after years away, but there was also a feeling that the days of relatively easy pickings in the east were over.

“The first thing you need in business is timing, and it had to be time to reshore to Britain because buyers of luxury brands — especially the Chinese — don’t want ‘made in China’ on the label. They want ‘made in Britain’ or ‘made in Italy’,” Mr Murphy said.

“Also, the British knitting industry is at such a low ebb — apart from John Smedley, we don’t have any high-end knitwear in England — that there has to be an opportunity.”

Their choice was narrowed by the increasingly catch-all status of the capital as the only place to be if you want to connect with the right people. “We could have gone to Bradford or Manchester and got big [European] grants, but I didn’t want to retreat into the past — and half of the world’s best designers live in Hackney, right on our doorstep.”

The designers may have been there, but the workforce wasn’t. The company has had to go to the universities for bright graduates who can be trained quickly. The manager of the group’s core production centre, which has 14 computerised Stoll knitting machines shipped over from Germany and costing £100,000 apiece, was studying at the University of Brighton until a few months ago. For the simpler operations, the sewing machine work and finishing, the company is looking for local young people in what is an unfashionable northern outpost of the capital happy to take on an apprenticeship.

The flip side of this skills shortage is that there is an emphasis on youth and enthusiasm, with everybody expected to do everything eventually, and no rigid industrial hierarchy. It is unlikely that many people in the company were alive when The Rag Trade, a sitcom based around 1960s and 1970s industrial stereotypes, last appeared on television, and if they were they would probably find the unionised demarcation unrecognisable

Mr Murphy was a graduate trainee at Dawson after studying Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He attracts the fashion-house clients. Mr O’Neill had a more traditional trajectory, joining one of Dawson’s Scottish operations as a teenage apprentice before winning an internal promotion to help to set up a factory in China. He is in charge of the nuts and bolts of the operation.

The company’s London manufacturing facility is more upmarket than the traditional textile factory. Its £200,000 fit-out costs — which include a staircase made out of recycled knitting machines by Jaz Asbury, a Hereford-based metal sculptor — is part of its policy of not running a sweatshop behind a showroom for the fashion-house clients. Instead, it’s the manufacturing equivalent of the open kitchen at a three-star restaurant cooking steak from an organic farm in Leicestershire.

“If we had just wanted to get off the ground and produce the goods, we could have, but from a view of sales and marketing it was important that for anyone who walks through the door the place has the wow factor,” Mr O’Neill said.

The computerised knitting machines have been shuttling since the start of the year, but the woolly mammoth in the room — if the company is to start making a profit by year two — is whether the numbers stack up. The cost of setting up the factory and the time it took compared with the can-do attitude in Asia came as a shock, as did the absence of local authority support for a promise to provide local jobs.

Yet the company argues that with corporation tax in Britain now down to 20 per cent, against 32.5 per cent in China, and helped by cheaper transport costs, the higher operating charges — including rent, rates and the 24 staff commanding London salaries — are at least partly offset.

Mr Murphy and Mr O’Neill both believe that many of the advantages of globalisation have faded and the allure of working in a factory is no longer what it was. “China is seeing the backlash of the one-child policy. And I am amazed at how keen people are here. There are so many graduates fighting for an increasingly small pool of jobs,” Mr Murphy said.

The two men are confident that the auspices are all fair and the time is right. The stance is less “Here’s a barrel and, look, there’s Niagara Falls” and more “Surf’s up”.

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