His Blackburn factory Cookson and Clegg normally makes the affordable, everyday Community Clothing label he founded in 2016 as an antidote to fast fashion. Now it has responded to the crisis by switching production to medical tunics and trouser sets along with face protectors. “Demand is so great we could make 50 times what we are doing at present,” says Grant.
Known as the immaculately groomed judge on BBC One’s kindly reality show The Great British Sewing Bee, Grant’s rescue of the ailing military supplier Cookson and Clegg in 2016 saved workers’ jobs in hard-up area and led to the setting up of Community Clothing.
The social enterprise manufactures the brand in conjunction with a network of partner factories across the UK.
A longstanding admirer of the UK’s textile manufacturing tradition and determined to help revive its fortunes and maintain skills, Grant has been pin sharp on the retail acquisitions and start-ups front for the past 15 years.
Companies under his belt include Mayfair outfitter Norton & Sons, luxury heritage brand E.Tautz and the Hammond & Co formal menswear collection he produces for Debenhams.
Overall turnover for his companies was around £30 million, but since Covid-19, “forecasting the future for business is for the moment a dark art,” he says.
However good video tech, bespoke tailoring needs human proximity and Debenhams is in administration. “But we are still selling online and hopeful the stores, so important locally, will emerge out of this,” Grant adds.
Now there are 36 staff in Cookson & Clegg sewing the simply-designed, reusable PPE, using a supply chain that, despite all the manufacturing shutdowns, has survived and is conveniently on the doorstep.
“A large supplier of medical fabrics is just down the road,” explains Grant, “and we have been lent special equipment, including a machine to insert elastic waistbands.”
To set up and start of production, conforming to new safety guidelines, might have been expected to take months. Yet Cookson and Clegg did it in under a week, demonstrating what more could be done and the shortcomings of current supply chains.
Cheap, disposable PPE made overseas and then imported has been the NHS’s main source of supply. But Covid-19 has dramatically laid bare the limitations and unsustainability of this model.
Times have moved on and now a long-term rethink is necessary, says Grant.
“Digital manufacturing and automation are reducing production costs, the need for stocks and immediate availability has been proved both for the NHS and social care. There are new sterilising processes and the pressure is on anyway to reduce waste volumes.
“When you look at the benefits of being able to reuse a garment 100 times and the costs of transportation, reshoring becomes far more viable.”
Community Clothing is restarting production, but PPE is highly likely to remain a part of the Cookson and Clegg output.
Although “this is the most difficult period” Grant has encountered, his thoughts are also turning to scaling and new investment. “This crisis has shown just how important UK manufacturing is,” he declares, “and what a sustainable future it has.”
Published at Fri, 15 May 2020 08:45:00 +0000