On Thursday morning Kay and I made the short trip across the border to the town of Blackburn, for the official launch of Community Clothing. Despite growing up in Yorkshire, I visited often as a child to buy fabrics in the market, as well as shoes from the legendary Tommy Balls factory. Kay grew up in Rochdale but always wished she had a Blackburn accent! We were both excited to go back and I have been wanting to find out more about Patrick Grant's inspirational project since I read about it in the May issue of Sew Magazine (which I was very happy to be featured in too).
The big idea behind the brand is this:
"Community Clothing is a manufacturers cooperative with a simple mission; to make excellent quality affordable clothes for men and women, to create great jobs for skilled workers and by doing this to help to restore real pride in Britain's textile communitites."
The first collection of garments are classics done well - white t-shirts made in Blackburn, premium quality selvedge denim jeans and classic rainwear from local cloth. Knitwear is produced in Scotland, socks are produced in Leicestershire and the lovely totes come all the way from Accrington Stanley.
The clothes are affordable as they are sold direct via the Community Clothing ebay store or in their shop. Patrick pointed out that the jeans I bought for £65 would cost £150 in a retailer, so cutting out the middleman makes a big difference to the customer. Moreover they are produced when factories have quiet times due to seasonal demand. This deceases the risk of worker's losing their jobs or having zero hours contracts.
Kay's Harrington jacket made from cloth produced by Millerian in Bradford
Blackburn is home to two of the main manufacturers in the Community Clothing cooperative. The Cookson & Clegg factory opened in 1860 and has a rich history, producing military uniforms and workwear. It provided cloth for Grant's Saville Row company Norton & Sons until it became no longer financially viable and was set to close down. Patrick and his company bought the mill and the vision for Community Clothing was born.
The project launched with a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year where people committed to buy garments before their manufacture. The campaign succeeded and exceeded its target of £75.000, but it was close to the wire and took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. 1020 people backed it, from 25 towns and cities and 10 countries.
It was important to Patrick that the official launch was up here in Blackburn, and we were very happy about it too. There will be future pop-ups in London and around the county but the heart of the company is in Lancashire.
Many people reading this blog will know Patrick as a judge on the Great British Sewing Bee. However, he is by no means just a frontman for the iniativive. During our chat his passion for British cloth, his industry knowledge and his determination to succeed all shone through. He knows the names of the staff on the factory production lines, and their stories. He wants to grow and scale the business and has built a great team to work with including CEO Lucy Clayton and General Manager Iain Trickett, whose grandfather made jackets for the army in the local mill. He has also teamed up with social enterprise Bootstrap to focus on creating jobs and training. One press article recently described Patrick as a 21st-century industrialist. He has gained a reputation for swimming against the tide and it will be very interesting to follow his journey over the next few years.
Why am I so excited?
The values of Community Clothing are close to my heart and central in the Jenni Smith Studio's future plans for releasing garment patterns and skill-building kits. Since entering Entrepreneurial Spark I have visited local mills and manufacturers to source products and learn about their provenance. There is a positive shift as people become disillusioned with fast fashion and want to know where their clothes come from. I know that every time I wear my Community Clothing jeans and read the label "Made in Blackburn" it will make me smile (even if I am a Yorkshire lass). I want to pass on that happy feeling to our customers and champion British cloth manufacturing too.
Make do and Mend
The funniest part of our day was leaving with a sewing project (as well as some nice new clothes). During our chat we noticed that Patrick (who often ranks on the fashion industry's Best Dressed lists) had a large hole in the elbow of his jumper. It's Howick cashmere and a firm favourite, so in the spirit of making clothes last a lifetime we offered to fix it (he is working 100-hour weeks at the moment so can be excused). He took us up on the offer and handed it over, so that's another job to add to the list!
The Community Clothing shop is now open in central Blackburn so please go and check it out if you are local. For opening times and location please see their website
Alternatively you can shop online at their Ebay store
Please also comment if you enjoyed this post, it's always nice to hear from you!
My interview from Sew Magazine can be seen here
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