This week sees the launch of ‘Buy British Day’ – an initiative to encourage businesses and consumers to consider buying British products. The campaign was kicked off with ‘The Great British Discussion’ at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The event featured a panel of experts including Patrick Grant of E Tautz, bespoke shirtmaker, Emma Willis, and editorial director of Drapers Record, Eric Musgrave, exploring the future viability of British manufacturing. We caught up with the founder of Best of Britannia, Antony Wallis, to discover why he started ‘Buy British Day’, and also to hear what the hot topics were. Don’t forget ‘Buy British Day’ is on the October 3rd.
What was the idea behind Buy British Day?
We wanted to see what the take up would be and see if we could generate a larger national discussion. The hashtag #buybritishday got 257K retweets and was the third most trended topic nationwide on October 3rd last year. It wasn’t just craftsman and manufacturers, companies like Barclay’s bank, and high street retailers, like Topshop, got involved too. It’s a great promotional tool for retailers to offer discounts.
Why should we buy more British made products?
There’s more and more of a steer towards made in Britain products. There’s more and more marketing value in British made products because of the story behind the products, the factory, and awareness of the region in which it is made. People care about provenance. There’s a big hook from knowing the factory where a shirt is made. People don’t mind paying extra because it gives them an emotional attachment to a product.
Lots of British brands have a great customer care ethos too. For instance shoes made in Northampton can be sent back to the factory to be re-soled, which also means you’re helping with employment. They’re built to last. There’s a feel good factor, you’re giving something back. You’re helping the economy.
What were the main points from the The Great British Discussion?
One of the main points that came across from the panel was a feeling in the media that it was just not possible to make a lot of things in Britain, that it is simply not possible to compete with cheap imports. But in spite of this everyone was very upbeat about the country’s manufacturing prospects.
Why is everyone so upbeat?
There’s a lot of great ideas, quality products, innovation and craftsmanship in the UK. There’s no reason why we can’t make more great stuff and export it. We don’t just have to compete on price. The appetite abroad for British products is enormous. We’re talking to organisations in Miami, Shanghai. We know that Japanese people love our products – but do we as Brits? That’s the more important question.
What are the barriers to success?
There’s a lot that the government and banks can do in terms of funding and investment. If I am a startup, where do I go for funding? All of the companies represented on our panel were all trying to make as much as possible in Britain, but often there are problems with economies of scale. We think that eventually the investment will come from abroad.
Is there also a problem with persuading young people to work in manufacturing?
Yes, there’s a perception that working in clothing manufacturing has something of the dark satanic mill about it, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I recently went to Northampton and met craftsman who had been working happily in shoemaking for 50 years. One of our panellists, Emma Willis, has a beautiful factory in Gloucester, making luxury Jermyn street shirts, which is an absolutely fantastic place to be. The media could do more to encourage young people to consider a career in manufacturing.
What about clarifying what exactly Made in Britain actually means?
Well, a member of the audience bemoaned the fact that a certain clothing brand claims to be ‘Gloriously British’ in their marketing and branding, but make all their products in China. It’s something people feel very strongly about. There’s needs to be a lot more clarity, perhaps a kitemark system. People are now distinguishing between ‘Made in England’ and ‘Made in Britain’ – it’s become regional now. People are very passionate about where they make their products.