24 Apr 2014
Who Made Your Clothes?
When we decided to set up Cock & Bull Menswear in 2012 we knew we did not want it to be just another menswear fashion brand. We wanted it to reflect our idea of what we thought of as pleasing aesthetics, good design, quality production and craftsmanship, beautiful colours and textiles, a list of objectives similar to most start-up fashion brands. But there was one aspect of the brand that was hardly in the fashion mainstream for menswear and hardly in the consumer conscience: we also wanted a brand that created garments with the above attributes but that also encompassed high moral and ethical ideals. We wanted a brand that did not compromise the earth in the cultivation of the fibres nor compromise on the working conditions for the makers of our garments. Having benefited over the last 2 decades from the plethora of well designed goods that now flood the UK market. We felt strongly that it was high time that the production of goods were again given the respect that they deserved. we were committed to launching a brand that exemplified the process of making and employed the local skills still available in the UK but fast disappearing in favour of less ‘messy’, physically demanding and more ‘sophisticated’ professions.
Our dream to have 100% of our product line produced in the UK meant we could work closely with a small skilled team whom we could easily communicate with and were close enough for us to see regularly. This was a huge challenge, especially when it came to producing our organic cotton underwear. Firstly, the quantities we wanted to produce was a problem: the quantities that we had in mind were too small for the elastic manufacturer to produce in the 5 colour ways that we wanted to offer. Secondly, the manufacturing of smalls is almost non existent in the UK with the vast majority now taking place overseas. We did, however, persevere and found a small unit in Derby run by Alan & Linda (who having made a killing in the 90’s with valour suits) were now in semi-retirement and pursuing a life of leisure and travel. We were lucky to persuade them to take on our small runs of boxer briefs and T-shirts and feel blessed that we were able to jump into the choppy seas of manufacturing with a couple who were so generous, flexible and open.
Next up was our 8 piece Scottish handwoven Tweed Capsall made by Rob and his trusty team, a very established old English hat maker in Lancashire. You can read more about the making of our very luxe update on the traditional flat cap here.
Organic cotton shirts are a solid part of the product line that we wanted to produce and so we began by sourcing Fairtrade, handwoven organic cottons from India. Again, we wanted to work closely with the makers and manufacturers to ensure full compliance of our manufacturing standards and fair and safe working conditions. We were introduced to a small unit in North London where we were able to observe the team of Freddy & Kemal in action. Freddy & Kemal deliver beautifully made shirts that we have been proud to sell knowing that no one was exploited in the making of them. We were so pleased that we commissioned them to also produce our range of organic hemp & PET Jeans.
This year we have moved forward on our dream to even produce a number of items in our basement workshop beneath our shop. This gives us a much greater flexibility in what we can offer our clients and customers including even shorter runs of limited edition items, bespoke items, made to measure items and specially commissioned items. We have a very tight and flexible small team of 3 headed by our ex-Saville Row tailor Boz. We get a real buzz being able to experiment with one-off and very limited edition items such as our New Adventures in Tweed made of raw organic denim and Tweed range. We have taken on a lot of the traditional manufacturing techniques of traditional tailors including cutting everything by hand and hand-sewing all our buttons onto our finished items. We work in a relaxed safe working environment where we enjoy crafting well made items. It is the kind of working environment that I would wish for all garment manufacturers but sadly we live in a word where there are many many millions of people working in unsafe and unhealthy working environments.
Remembering the Workers of Rana Plaza
Today is 24th April 2014, the first year anniversary of the Rana Plaza fire that killed over 1100 workers at the manufacturing facility that makes clothes for some of the biggest brands in the world. It is a day to also remember over 2000 other workers who were injured in the fire and who have had their lives irreversibly changed. Not only must they suffer the post traumatic stress that accompanies such tragedies but fight for the compensation that they so rightly deserve. They had thus far been the invisible and silent workforce working diligently to make the cheap clothes that we in the West have come to rely on as a part of our disposable lifestyle but a year ago we heard the almost unbelievable tragic news of one of the most horrendous industrial tragedies of our time. We think that it is hugely important that we stop to think about the providence of the items that we buy on a regular basis. Thanks to a handful of pioneering companies and organisations who championed Fairtrade and organic food over 2 decades ago, it now has a looming presence in most of our lives.
The new fight for social justice must be to demand safe and healthy working environments for those members of our global society who depend upon and enjoy making things as their means of making a living. In the UK, for the most part, we enjoy working conditions that have been incrementally been improved over the last 250 years, including The Act of Apprentices 1563, The Master and Servant Act 1867, The Employers and Workmen Act 1875. In relation to health and safety In 1795 the Manchester Board of Health was formed,to advise legislation for the regulation of the hours and conditions of labour in factories thus leading in 1802 to the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act. This was followed by many other Acts such as the 1844 Textile Factory Act, The Coal Mines Act, The Sanitary Act, The Factory & Workshop Act, The Cotton Cloth Factories Act, The Employment of Children Act 1903, Notice of Accidents Act 1906 The Employment of Women Act 1907 to name a few. More recently The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 established a UK-wide minimum wage. We think that it is clear that the history of labour laws in the UK have been historically established over close to 300 years of demands and negotiation and it is clear that the fight for establishing labour laws that honour the lives of workers in Bangladesh, and throughout the manufacturing world, is one that demands energy and support.
While we at Cock & Bull Menswear have chosen to manufacturer exclusively in the UK in order to preserve a proud manufacturing heritage and support local manufacturers and crafters we still think that it is hugely important that workers in other countries are also supported in order to develop and maintain the same for their personal lives and economies.
We will continue to support the goals of the Fashion Revolution Organisation and congratulate them on their enormous support for the workers of Bangladesh.
Read more about the campaigning organisations supporting freedom and justice:
Clean Clothes Campaign
Ethical Fashion Forum
Fair Trade Foundation
Environmental Justice Foundation
The Good Guide
Greenpeace Detox Campaign
Labour Behind the Label
Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical
War on Want
World Fair Trade Organisation
UN Global Compact