4 March 2011

Made In England.

Last month myself and Mark from Proper Magazine made the short stride across town along the old canal as Manchester City centre jumps into Salford visiting the Cooper & Stollbrand factory.
We were given the guided tour, and a brew whilst we waited, by Managing Director James Eden who showed us the ins and outs of good old fashioned clothing manufacturing. British, hand crafted clothing manufacturing. Sadly one of the last few remaining mills like this which is still in operation today. During the industrial boom, Manchester's mills were hard at it, producing lots of different garments for lots of different brands, especially raincoats, the famous Baracuta harrington,Steve McQueen's favourite jacket was produced around these parts to name just one, as they come in quite handy around these parts. Manchester was dubbed Cottonopolis - bestowed during the 19th century, as inspired by it's status as the international centre of the cotton and textile processing industries during that time, industries were powered by water and steam, people used canals before roads were even thought of. As it boomed and became world renowned it has now long since declined, many of the original mills in smaller surrounding towns are still in use, as many in the city still stand in the same spot, but not many are still part of that once proud textile industry. Just forty years ago millions were employed in that industry, it's a stark contrast today.
Yet this is one of the longest serving and sophisticated manufacturers of premium outerwear today, nowadays a rarity in the UK, surviving against the odds, as new found enthusiasm for heritage and classic style going back to basics sees more and more designers and craftsmen wanting to produce home grown schmutter once again.
With several floors of hand crafted high quality garments, going through the production process from sketch to the finished article. The staff are all as essential as the good old reliable machinery they use, some have been there for over five decades from school leavers to retirement age, a real rarity in this day and age. You may well have seen this place feature on telly last week here

The in house brand is PWVC, in honour Private Jack White, the founder of the factory who won the Victoria Cross in the Great War, his Grandchildren now run the factory and keep the long standing tradition of a family business going. Speaking to James from PWVC he told me this place was the first place on the planet, well this here blogosphere at least, to mention the brand.

An old edition of Victor comic mentioning real life war hero Private Jack White.

A familiar roll of checked fabric, there was a whole host of labels I recognised here, some I really like too, I won't mention any names but I had a sneak peak at one or two bits of forthcoming stuff before the look books and bloggers got hold of them.

Jean who's worked here since Manchester was built, you won't find another.

Hard at work on a flyweight parka.

Pattern cutting, some thing's will always be done by hand.

Managing Director James, getting his pose on.

One of those tedious feet shots as I hilariously pretend to use some heavy machinery.
Situated over several floors, we got to see the working day of a factory, there's a lot more to it than you might think, all different folk doing different jobs, from pattern cutting at the top, to seamstresses and popping in press studs at the bottom, a real mix of local lads and lasses and those from further afield. Many of the local women have worked there for years, their first jobs, think Underworld in Corrie, but with less knickers and more cooler brands.
One room was stocked head to toe in an array of fabrics, from Harris tweeds to British Millerain and pretty much everything else in between.
Most brands will use archives and reference points, they all normally base bits on older bits, and why not? old British heritage brands and US outdoor brands were built to stand the test of time, set a standard and also look timelessly cool, a lot are a model for all the things we see released today, one fairly secretive room saw lots of gems on rails from time gone by, some old pieces of outerwear which were used by current brands as a model for new jackets.

For more of the same, and I think a really ace competition, look out for the forthcoming issue 11 of Proper Magazine.

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