When Hettie first started out a few years ago we were fortunate to come across Kate Hills and her brilliant website Make It British. It has been so useful to us on our journey, and it’s great to know that we have access to advice and support plus networking with other members who share our values and have similar queries .
Founded in April 2011 as a way of supporting British brands that manufacture their products in the UK, Make it British originally started as a blog, but has now grown to include a British brands directory as well as features on British craftsmanship and a resource for designers wanting to find manufacturers to make their products. I enjoyed chatting to Kate on a podcast for her fantastic series which is well worth listening to
Kate also runs the manufacturing trade show Make it British Live! which attracts over 5,000 visitors from 17 different countries, all looking to make their products in the UK. I went along a couple of years ago with our manufacturing team . There was a great atmosphere there and I really enjoyed it
Twenty years working as a designer and buyer for brands such as Burberry and M&S and multiple product sourcing trips overseas prompted Kate to set up the Make it British website to help promote UK manufacturing and British-made brands.
Kate has appeared regularly on television and radio espousing her firm belief that manufacturing in the UK is thriving, cost-effective and sustainable.
I was delighted to chat to Kate and learn a bit more about her and her background and ideas
We would love to hear more about the Make it British story and how you came to start it
I’ve always worked in the fashion industry. Starting my own brand and factory after university and then working in design and buying roles, including at Burberry and Marks and Spencer. It was during this time that I saw production being moved overseas and UK factories closing down. I’d sit in meetings where we’d tell UK suppliers that we weren’t going to buy their product anymore because we could source it much cheaper from the Far East, it was heartbreaking.
I knew that if someone didn’t do something to help save what was left of the UK manufacturing industry then soon there would be nothing left. So, I set up Make it British to help promote UK manufacturers and brands that make in the UK. It started as a blog, but there was so much interest and a need for voice to champion UK manufacturing that it grew and grew. Today we run events, including our annual trade show, as well as the website with loads of online resources
What does Made in Britain mean to you ?
I love authentic British goods, manufactured by skilled craftsman using the finest materials and made to last. When you buy these goods you are helping to keep these skills alive in the UK. If we don’t support the makers in Britain that still have these precious skills, we will lose them forever. I’m not saying that everything you own should be made in Britain, but I think if we can make it here we should.
How valuable is a Made in Britain label to a brand ?
Very! British-made goods are perceived as high quality, we are renowned for our great design and there’s a huge demand for them, particularly in Japan. Barclays released some interesting research last year on this and even found that international customers are willing to pay a premium for our products.
But, this reputation has been built up over years of us producing amazing products. Unfortunately anyone can slap a Union Jack on a product to try and cash in on the value of British goods. Genuine, quality Made-in-Britain brands need to market their provenance and tell the story of their product; the people who make it and the craftsmanship and materials that go into it. That where the real value lies.
Could British Made products tempt people back to the High Street ?
People tend to head out to brick and mortar shops when they’re looking for unique items and things that aren’t mass produced, so yes, I think British made products could be a draw. It’s possibly smaller brands that are weathering the storm better than the retail giants. I know lots of British brands doing well with pop up shops, markets and customer-facing live events. I think that retail is changing and now is the time for British-made brands to make the most of it.
What are you most proud of ?
I’m incredibly proud of our trade show and how we launched it as a very small team knowing nothing about putting on events. We thought just a few hundred people would turn up to the first show in 2014, and instead we had over 2,000 and a queue round the block to get in. It really demonstrated that there was a big demand for local manufacturing.
Over the last few years hundreds of UK manufacturers and producers have exhibited at the show, and it has enabled thousands of businesses to find and work with factories and suppliers in the UK.
Do you think Made in Britain is one of the ways we can make products in the most sustainable way ?
I definitely do. People often say that buying something made in the UK is too expensive, but the UK does make high quality goods that really do last. I’ve got John Smedley knitwear in my wardrobe that I bought with my first pay cheque when I worked at Marks and Spencer in 1997, and it is still going strong. You buy far less when you buy better quality clothing with longevity.
That’s before you’ve even looked at the carbon footprint from shipping goods from thousands of miles away. Let alone the trips back and forward whilst a product is being developed.
Where can people who would like to buy British made products look to find them ?
In our directory! We have amazing British-made brands who are our members. All are listed on our online directory with links to their websites and social media - so that’s a great place to start.
But I would urge people to just be aware and thoughtful when they’re shopping. Get in the habit of checking the country of origin on the label, whether it’s on the food you buy or the clothes you wear. Make an informed choice. Some things simply can’t be made here, and that’s fine. But, if we can make it here we should and the best way to support UK manufacturers so they can continue to make, is to buy their products.
Some quick fire questions :
Tell us about your dog
He’s a Tibetan Spaniel called Gizmo. We spent ages picking the ideal dog for our family - it had to be a breed that would get on with our cats, and children, and that liked a good walk, but at the same time didn’t need hours of exercise every day. It also had to be fluffy - but not yappy!
The breeder we got him from has been breeding Tibetan Spaniels for over 50 years, and he really is a super little dog. He’s relaxed and friendly and loves meeting new people.
Who would be your perfect dinner guest ?
Someone who is more interested in the conversation than the food - I’m not a great cook!
What does downtime mean to you?
There isn’t much downtime in our house. I work from home so it is quite hard to switch off, and if I’m not working then I’m running the kids around to various activities.
The only time I get genuine downtime is when I’m on holiday. I like to switch off any devices and really relax; eating great food and soaking up the sunshine.
What is your biggest motivator?
Seeing UK manufacturers expand their businesses and new factories open! When I started Make it British, manufacturing in the UK was still declining, but now it is thriving. So many UK manufacturers are family businesses too, and it is great to see younger generations joining their parents to help run their factories.
Favourite book ?
I am not one for reading fiction, and looking along my bookcase most books that I own are reference books, business books and autobiographies.
The book that I find myself referring to again and again is Studies in Industrial Organisation by H.A. Silverman. It was published in the 1940s and is based on research by Oxford University into where Britain’s industrial areas of specialism were; for instance shoe making in Northampton and lace making in Nottingham. It gives a great snapshot of how Britain’s manufacturing landscape looked in the first part of the Twentieth Century and many of these industries still survive in these areas today, albeit on a much smaller scale.
I love cities so it’s difficult to choose just one favourite. London is my first love; I went to school there and lived and worked there for many years; but I also love Sao Paolo in Brazil. It’s a vibrant city with some interesting architecture and wonderful people. Palermo in Sicily is another favourite. It’s very different to the rest of Italy and the street markets are incredible.
Where is your happy place?
Definitely when I am inside a factory! I love nothing more than seeing where things are made and meeting the skilled and talented people that are behind the products that we use and the clothes that we wear
Quintessentially British luxury accessories for adventures together from rural to city