Thursday, 29 March 2012

Knickers to revolution

The industrial revolution came about with the invention of numerous mechanical devises that made manufacturing on a large scale possible.  This, along with better transport facilities, mainly the canal and train systems, made for a boom in trade for all types of industry; including the textile industry. 
As workers conditions improved, cost of building and maintaining buildings rose and technology evolved at a break neck speed, over the last 50 years manufacturing in the UK has slumped.  One of the main factors is the factory costs, rents are at an all time high, as they always will be, year on year and building of factories makes for a huge investment; not the bricks and mortar element but the high cost of land.  So what if you take the cost of the building out of the equation?  Yes, our salaries are higher than many other countries around the world and this is a significant portion of costing any manufactured  item.  But is it significant enough to make it necessary to close down whole industries.  So supposing we had a collective of what used to be termed cottage workers, people who work from home, for a specified rate, producing a specified product?   

Mary Portas is currently on TV employing 8 people to make knickers in a Manchester factory.  Listening  to the tweets and the media surrounding the programme you would think that MP was the only person in the country to think there is something seriously wrong with a county that does not manufacture anything for the sake of having cheaper items that no one thought of as expensive in the first place.  It is no good asking people where their knickers are made and then being disgusted that they are all made in Pakistan, Indonesia, China etc. – I have never wanted cheaper clothing, I have never thought your average skirt/blouse/trousers are too expensive, personally I do not buy that many articles of clothing for it to be of consequence.  When you cannot buy British manufactured clothes on the High Street, you can hardly blame the poor consumer (regardless of the retailers babbling on about market forces).  However, if you can supply a skirt that is very well made (and I defy anyone to say that the quality of clothing in the supermarkets is shoddy) for a fraction, quite often less than half the price one would normally pay, well, I’m sorry but many do not have money to waste and human nature is that you spend less money on what you (personally) see as the essentials and spend more money on what you see as worth paying more for.  Clothing manufacturers might lose out, but someone somewhere gains (unless we have turned into a nation of savers).   We have become used to cheap clothing and you cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

It makes great TV and I think it is a great way of highlighting (even if it is EVER SO SLIGHTLY patronising) the bleeding obvious and anything to revitalise British textile industry (and manufacturing in general) without any mention of ‘crafts’ is a step in the right direction in my book. 

So my thinking is this; if you are not lucky enough to have a fully kitted out factory handed to you and the door of the purchasing manager of our main department stores opened for you in the form of free primetime TV advertising how about collective manufacturing?  All the people on Folksy are competing with each other, what we should be doing is working together.  Let’s see if there really is an appetite for ‘buying British’.  Local and grow I think is my motto, small collectives in a geographical area working to a common pattern/design which can be collated and added to a much bigger collection.  Using independent designers, machinists, business management, local couriers, sales people all working to a common goal with the same benefits, all sounds a bit commie I know, but I’m sure you get the idea!

All takes time, all takes planning, but the main thing is market forces which are not controlled by us the consumers but by the profit margin of our big retailers.  I might have it completly wrong, but I am going to investigate this further...

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