“We did it, we hit our target,” Ian Brown, joint managing director of family-run worsted mill Alfred Brown, tells Drapers. That target was to achieve a 21% increase in turnover to £8.5m for 2011.
Rounding off a successful 2011, the mill in Bramley, Leeds, which Brown runs with his brother Nigel, added department store chain John Lewis and premium retailer Jaeger to its already impressive list of customers that includes Marks & Spencer, designer label Paul Smith, classic retailer Austin Reed and tailoring retailer Charles Tyrwhitt.
Alfred Brown is a business buoyed by a renewed interest in quality, British-made fabrics. Brown believes the faltering economy has helped people reassess the importance of home-grown industries, and expects the upcoming Olympics to thrust Made in Britain products into the spotlight once more.
“The retail trade has really backed it, and we’ve got a growing list of brands and retailers that want to run British-made collections. Our fabric is more robust than those produced by Italian mills, and it works well with the British look,” he says.
Renewed interest in Made in Britain has helped bring the UK textiles industry back from the brink, after it was left struggling when a 30-year-old quota limiting Chinese exports was scrapped in 2005. Alfred Brown invested £1.5m in new weaving machines last year, upping its manufacturing capacity by 15%.
Brown plans to grow the business by increasing its womenswear division and via its new wool fabrics for men’s formal overcoats, which Paul Smith and menswear brands Brook Taverner and Roderick Charles have already bought into. Meanwhile, Alfred Brown’s stock service, which carries 200 patterns available for quick delivery and accounts for 20% of the business, has strong demand from austerity-hit businesses reluctant to hold large inventories and keen to react to changes in the market.
However, fluctuations in raw material prices can make forward buying a nightmare. They have already eaten into margins across the supply chain, and could force retailers to take their business back offshore. “Price is always a challenge for us. However, the Made in Britain appeal of our product has been quite resilient, and I think that’s because price rises in all commodities have been global. I also think people realise that if you want a quality product you have to be prepared to pay for it,” says Brown.