I’m British. My company is British. Now, we have a range Made in Britain.
I’m proud of all this. But proud of what? What is “British” to me and how is it relevant to you?
I’ll start with how the ideas and cultural influences in my head, that solidified to form Vulpine, early in 2010, 2 years before we launched. When I left my job in film, to become an entrepreneur, I felt my first task was to fully form my brand. What did it stand for? What was I for or against? Only then could I go about creating an innovative urban cycling apparel business with strong foundations.
The cornerstone was quality. Then creativity, inclusivity, innovation, classic style, tailoring with a twist, detailing, wit & self-deprecating humour. These are all British traits, though I wasn’t overtly thinking that at the time. I realised the Britishness of Vulpine, once I‘d created my ideal company.
There was one distinctly un-stereotypically British trait I needed to include: emotion.
Contrary to simple thinking, we Brits are emotional, passionate, driven and curious. We tend to display it less overtly than the stereotypically passionate nations like Italy, but still waters run deep. I don’t run terribly deep, its all out there with me, and I am deeply passionate about cycling, design, being British and being part of the World.
I’m the proud owner of a number of bespoke Savile Row suits, that no longer fit me (a touch of gym, but mostly Dad Spread). I love classic tailoring with a twist, like a citrus bright suit lining or a pink button hole stitch. I also love old military uniforms, tunics and such. All highly functional garments that look beautiful, that make the wearer feel protected and special all at once. This was what I wanted for Vulpine.
I definitely wanted to adapt classics. Cycling was too full of wacky designs and krrrrazzie colours. Most of us want to feel good, and be confident in what we wear, not jamming out a finger at the world, daringly sporting the latest neon plastic tiger print bin bag in defiance of social norms (though I have tried this, and its liberating. Not recommended for conferences or meeting the in-laws though.)
I knew I wanted to make it all in Britain. Because, well, why wouldn’t I? Beautiful things made a short journey away, a self-supporting ecosystem. Idealistically.
Except I couldn’t. British manufacturing is pretty stuffed. The main problem is that even if you fund the factory, there aren’t the skilled workers to place in it. Decades have passed since those skills were at a premium, and people move on, or even die. And with no factories to train a new generation, or that new generation to train the next, there is no manufacturing.
So I went to Portugal, Italy, China, Sri Lanka and sought the quality that was a must.
Manufacturing is not my strong point. I can design something I feel is pretty sweet, and understand the processes to make it, but I can’t make it, or even show someone how to. My factory contacts were nil when I started. My awareness of the market was poor, at best. But as we grew, so did I, and I saw the manufacturing world with more clarity.
I started to realise what was possible when I did two collaborations with Oliver Spencer, which were made in Britain. Then I met Patrick Grant from the telly box and Savile Row. He is very charming, very passionate and thus very persuasive. He owns a factory in Blackburn, Lancashire, and wanted me to manufacture there. I’d always held on to returning as much our range to the UK as possible, when possible. So we did.
There’s nothing quite like seeing your garments made, if you’re a designer and/or owner, to give you goosebumps. To meet the people involved. The gent who cuts the cloth, the woman who sews the buttons, the team who piece a jacket together. To see your fabric in huge rolls, becoming pieces stacked on a table, to the finishing product, held proudly for your inspection. There’s little that’s more addictive to a company owner like me.
So great, we are now manufacturing in the UK. We start with four jackets, three for men, one women’s They’re all cut from British Millerain fabric, save the locally sourced tartan for the Waxed Harrington.
That’s a good start. There’s more to come soon.
I hope they’re popular, because then we can increase production across more lines. British manufacturing sadly is more expensive, but its premium for wonderful skills and heritage. We can’t yet make our entire range in Britain, but if owners with factories we’re not aware to approach me like Patrick did, and they can provide the quality I demand, we’re on.
Buying British, from a British company, is about so many things. It’s not a jingoistic fervour I want to share, but a love of what makes us ‘Great’, in my opinion. Creativity, style, heritage, quality, attention to detail, innovation, open mindedness, wit and, believe it or not, passion.
P.S: The Elephant in The Room – Brexit.
I’m a mongrel of French, English, Scottish and (we think) a bit of Algerian. There’s likely a lot more mongrelling going on if we dug deeper into my DNA. Like all (ALL) Brits. Exciting!
I am a proud European and a proud Brit. I think of myself as both, and I was devastated when we voted OUT. What could be more European than cycling? Cycling is the Tour de France. Pootling round Amsterdam. The cobbles of Flanders. The espresso culture of Italy.
Brexit also makes all our imports a lot more expensive, though it is of course a benefit if you’re purchasing outside the UK. Its interesting what Brexit will do for British manufacturing. I’ve talked to factory owners and we’re not sure.
Vulpine’s Made in Britain range and my keenness and hopes to expand upon it are not driven by feelings of superiority or small island mentality. I care about my country and what is close to me, just as any other nation is. I am proud of what we are best at: Creativity & culture. Our music, writing, art, and of course design. That world-beating creativity design standard comes from the mongrels and immigrants and we would be nowhere without them. It comes from heritage moved forwards by new ideas and influences from Indians, Jamaicans, Aussies, Bulgarians, Germans and Iraqis. We are always reshaping. I want to look forwards, not back, but always referencing the best of the past. Like classic British tailoring.
Made in Britain is not a statement of independence, its a love letter to our skill, curiosity, tolerance and creativity, and is offered to anyone around the world who wishes to enjoy them with us.