Last week UK Leather attended the two-day symposium programme of 12 sessions and 24 speakers at the Make It British Live! event in London. The place was heaving, and we were glad to see that both our membership leaflets, hand-made key rings (and mint imperials!) went down a treat with visitors!

Hosted by the British retail expert Eric Musgrave, the symposium programme proposed to “promote, discuss, examine and celebrate” our different UK manufacturing sectors. Representatives from the surviving British manufacturing industries included old and new textile makers, shoemakers, circular economy experts, a firm of specialist IP and copywriting lawyers and a range of other sector experts.

Following an introduction by Eric Musgrave in which he stated that “we are where we are” with our greatly reduced British manufacturing presence since the glory days of yesteryear, the first session included a truly chilling account of the potential pitfalls of online global investment scams by Simon Middleton from new men’s casualwear clothier Blackshore. The first day also saw presentations by the last remaining shirt factory in Derry, Smyth & Gibson, an export panel and also a panel discussion comprising certain British footwear manufacturers Cheaney Shoes, Grenson and also the British Footwear Association; where John Saunders from the latter provided a slide showing the remaining shoe manufacturers in the UK.

My intended-to-be frightfully clever tweet at the time commenting that this was a “lot of cobblers” was met with a stony silence from the Twittersphere – and having done some further research it transpires that this expression doesn’t innocently relate to shoemakers but something a lot more vulgar. Ooops.

The second day began with a very interesting discussion regarding intellectual property and copywriting issues by specialist law firm Potter Clarkson, followed by a panel discussion on apprenticeships entitled “securing the next generation for the UK textile industry“. This primarily featured on “youngsters” and the difficulty of securing their employment and loyalty in the manufacturing sector, but of course – apprentices can be any age as talent has no upper age limit. The enduring brand of Johnstons of Elgin was then featured, with creative director Alan Scott describing how the 220 year-old designs archive retained by the company has provided inspiration to revive and consolidate the brand since 2016.

The noticeably largest audience of the event gathered for the final panel discussion of the symposium, with representatives from John Lewis, Offset Warehouse and Circular Economy Wardrobe discussing how to manage optimum sustainability in the UK supply chain. The programme was swiftly wrapped up by Eric Musgrave and Kate Hills, with Eric reiterating the overall theme of the symposium; that with UK manufacturing capacity we must “use it or lose it“.

My take-away impressions of the programme content are that in order to survive; British companies need to develop a strong brand, know their niche, evolve with changing tastes but also provide longevity of demand by keeping core items available for decades, be smart when it comes to investment opportunities, educate domestic consumers that British-made goods will and should cost more and lastly, that the quality / value appeal of the Made in Britain label really is a Thing, particularly for overseas customers.

We’re looking forward to next year and who knows – there might even be a feature on British leather!