My recent visit to Derby to discuss fashion research at London College of Fashion prompted a great deal of discussion about the future of UK manufacturing, particularly considering the current economic circumstances. Derby has a wonderful heritage – it is in many ways the historic heart of the Industrial Revolution and was always central to the development of the British textiles industry.
Smedleys, based in Derbyshire, is one of the great UK knitwear companies with a rich heritage stretching back over 200 years. Benefitting from the water qualities of the Derwent River, Smedleys has a reputation for developing its workforce to be highly qualified and to this day believes in good labour relations and a strong environmental policy. It is also successful because, like other British luxury companies such as Burberry, Mulberry, Pringle, or Dunhill, it has built its reputation on heritage, craft and high quality manufacturing.

John Smedley Factory Workers
In the UK we may not always have the greatest reputation for directional design and it has been sad to see companies such as Jaeger and Aquascutum struggling – particularly as Aquascutum problems may lead to the closure of its Corby factory – the message is nevertheless that excellent British manufacturing when linked to the luxury market, combined with a British aesthetic, gives these companies a strong market position recognised world wide.
I believe there are a number of opportunities despite the economic circumstances facing us all to learn from such companies. Quality will always be valued and it attracts a premium. Growing transport, energy and labour costs means many companies are viewing UK manufacturing in a new light. Smedleys and other specialist manufacturing and textiles companies based in the Derbyshire area could point the way forward for others based around the UK.

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