“Your bomber jackets and trench coats will be ready for pickup at 11:00. They will fit at the back of your car or I can drop them off if you like”, said Alex, the manager of our factory at East London. Two hours later, the jackets were quality checked back at our studio shop and the pre-orders were posted same day to Manchester, London and New York. It took less than 2 weeks to produce our mens bombers and womens trench coats at this factory where craftsmanship, efficiency and access to some of the best tailors and machinists meets premium material and British-inspired heritage designs.
British manufacturers offer short lead times, cost savings on both transportation and production minimums, proximity to manufacturing facilities and quality control for the designer from beginning to end. There is, however, a challenge there. Today, only 8% of the clothes we wear are made in the UK, for the simple reason that there are not many factories left in the UK to begin with. A direct result of gradual manufacturing outsourcing to lower cost countries since the late 1980s, where there are obvious commercial benefits and great factories championing sustainability, working conditions and efficiency. And they are mostly cheaper than the UK. But cost is only a third of the issue.
"At King & Tuckfield we take a different approach. We start with the UK, because we we know English factories have some of the best skills".
Imagine a triangle with Fast, Cheap and Good on each point of the triangle. If you want something fast and cheap, it will not be good. If you want something good and cheap, it will not be fast. And if you want something good and fast, it will not be cheap. The mistake a lot of brands make is wanting fast, cheap and good. What we know from years of sourcing material and factories from all over the world, is that such thing is not achievable. Not even realistic. Any factory in the world when asked to make something good, will always spend time making it and this is not going to be cheap. Maybe cheap-er if you make it outside the UK, but not cheap per se.
We take a different approach. We start with the UK, because we know English factories have some of the best skills. A history of tailoring from the 19th century and a number of manufacturing facilities across the UK established in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, might be nascent but not lost. There is a pool of craftsmen that emigrated from Egypt, Greece, Bangladesh, Turkey - countries with a rich heritage in garment making - in order to settle in English factories years ago. These craftsmen didn't just bring their suitcases along, they brought knowledge in handling tricky fabrics and industrial-size machines.
We seek out these factories (far and few in between admittedly) and we spend time together before the first stitch goes through. For use of a better word this is a DNA-matching stage, between the factory and King & Tuckfield. Do they get our brand story? Do we get their expertise? Is sustainability on their agenda? Do they take pride on what they deliver? No style in our collection is the same as the next one and sometimes we sit with the machinist, change settings or even whole machines (like the riveting machine) and run tests until both us and the factory are happy.
"At an industry that still relies on human manpower to create a piece of clothing that lasts, spending time with people to come up with solutions is the only way to build a great product".
It takes a particularly resilient factory owner with a team of machinists, fabric cutters and quality controllers willing to make changes. The British are by far the best at that. Reasonable, confident, honest and with a dose of respect for the new.
We started King & Tuckfield with a single-minded belief: What you wear says a lot about who you are and where you've come from. We make product in a way that reflects that belief and if there are no obvious solutions when making a product that lasts, we will create them or we will not create the product.
“So what else, beyond jackets, can we do for you? We can make trousers if you want to give us some insight on your thread count”. The next day we spent 3 hours with Alex handing over our tech-packs and sketches for our next season's womens balloon trousers. There is a tricky part on them. Good.