In My View by Eric Musgrave: Fool Britannia? Let’s keep branding honest
David Antich is getting annoyed. And he is ready to do something about it.
A couple of months ago, via one of his regular LinkedIn posts, David let rip at the murky practices surrounding country-of-origin branding and the (mis)use of “Made in the UK” and similar labels.
He wrote: “You would not believe both how passionate and serious I am about this statement.
“We at Antich put our money where our mouth is and promote, people, product and provenance before profit.
“There are too many tailors (B2C) and garment manufacturers (B2B) who drape the UK flag and undermine its integrity by passing imports off as UK-made. Support the UK manufacturer, not the UK-based sales office and shops fronting overseas imports.”
The 40-year-old Yorkshiremen knows what he’s talking about as he runs what must be the only operation in the UK that weaves cloth and makes high-quality men’s tailoring all on the same site.
The weave-to-wear site is in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, the traditional epicentre of the fine worsted cloth trade. In 1989 David’s parents, Chris and Janet, established C & J Antich as a contract weaver, that is a mill making cloth for other firms. These could be cloth brands (a surprising number do not own any looms themselves), traditional cloth merchants serving the bespoke trade, and ready-to-wear clothing manufacturers or high street retailers.
David succeeded his late father in 2016 and today the group comprises, among other things, the contract weaving business, plus English Tailoring, a B2B supplier of suits, and Antich Fine Tailoring, which is a B2C operation with a shop adjoining the mill.
This is vertical manufacturing in action.
Every stage of production happens on Antich’s premises, apart from some cloth finishing, which is handled by the renowned firm of W T Johnson, which is also in Huddersfield, all of two miles away. Antich’s manufacturing system has a very small carbon footprint.
Unsurprisingly, David stresses the provenance of all his products in his marketing but he is very annoyed with the various infringements, rule bending and deception he sees all around.
He points out that for the best part of 200 years Huddersfield has been known worldwide as the source for fine worsteds, yet he sees other British weavers putting a Made in Huddersfield selvedge on cloth that is not made in the town.
“It should be enough for these firms just to put Made in England on the selvedge,” David argues. “In some cases they might make some cloth in Huddersfield, but that does not give them the right to put the Huddersfield name on everything they do. They are only doing it because Huddersfield adds a unique cachet to a worsted cloth. It’s inaccurate, misleading and wrong to apply it to cloth not made in the town.”
He is even more unhappy about what he terms the “smoke & mirror” approach to labelling finished garments. Sales of basic tailored suits have been declining for decades (long before the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic) but in recent years there has been a marked growth in higher-priced, better-quality suits, especially in the made-to-measure sector.
David’s issue here is that there is a tendency for companies to suggest or imply that the suits they are supplying to customers are “English” or “British” when in fact they are manufactured entirely or almost entirely in Eastern Europe, Mauritius, Bangladesh, China or any other country where expertise and sewing machines exist.
On this matter, David is not commenting on the rather fast-and-loose interchange of the terms “bespoke” and made-to-measure” – which are totally different approaches to tailoring – but rather on the tendency for suppliers to, as he puts it, “take liberties” when talking about their manufacturing sources.
Often not clearly stating where something is made – thereby leaving the consumer to presume it has been made in the UK – is almost as bad as incorrectly labelling it.
But does any of this country-of-origin malarkey really matter, some may say. Most consumers just want a good deal, the argument goes, and they are not concerned where or how the cloth was woven, knitted, dyed, finished, printed or sewn together.
That may be true for many people but I am with David on this subject. As a consumer, I would like much more information on my clothes telling me where they were made and where the cloth came from. I have never been convinced by suppliers telling me all this would be far too complicated for them to organise.
The rules in the USA are stricter than ours, which is why on one of my own Brooks Brothers button-down shirts the label states “Made in Malaysia”, while on another near-identical shirt it tells me it was “Made in the USA using imported fabric”.
“I’d be very happy to see that type of information instituted in the UK,” says David. “I have no problem with things being made abroad. It’s just pretending or implying they are made in the UK when they are not, or implying the cloth is British when it’s not, that is the problem for me.”
The UK regulations covering such matters are defined primarily in the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 – you can pore over them here https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1968/29
A practical problem is that these fall under the remit of local authority Trading Standards Officers, whose numbers have been greatly reduced in recent years. How likely is it that any alleged infringement would be discovered and investigated?
When I asked around friends in the industry, no one could recall hearing of a successful country-of-origin challenge in recent years.
David Antich, however, fired up with understandable pride in manufacturing solely in Huddersfield, is all set to turn the searchlights on the smoke & mirror merchants. He has promised (or threatened) to start naming and shaming the culprits who try to fool Britannia.
Good luck to him. His LinkedIn posts could become even more interesting quite soon.