Here at Bespoke Textiles we are dedicated to debunking outdated and ill-informed myths, and one of the biggest ones we come up against is: that China is just a cheap sourcing solution profiting off the back of low-paid labour. This could not be further from the truth and Bespoke Textiles’ recent experiences with Chinese fashion brand Heilan Group’s luxury suit label, SanCanal, has thoroughly proved that Chinese manufacturing is ethical, sustainable and has a tailored fashion supply chain.
SanCanal is China’s biggest luxury suit brand and our founder, Katie Young Gerald, had the pleasure of a tour of their factory. Bespoke Textiles are familiar with and have partnered with many factories in China from Shenzhen and Dong Guang to Hangzhou and Weihai. Katie Young Gerald had already planned to travel to the Hangzhou region, otherwise known as ‘The City of Ties’ to see our new silk jacquard design ties in production and she decided to combine the visits.
The SanCanal factory like a city in its self. Each building looks like a mausoleum, each floor a different expertise, trousers on one floor, jackets another, etc. The workmanship is impeccable, the machinery is state of the art, and the fabrics they are cutting are from Italy or are locally made, woven and developed in their research development centre and mill.
Katie Young Gerald was astounded and delighted by these working conditions and also learned that the average employee for the factory floors earns over £1,000 a month. They are paid in line with their talent and skill which is by necessity very high. They look happy, focused and work the 8 hours that we do and their meals are included.
Katie’s staff chaperone was a young lady called Dan who explained their policy to look after single women who come to work for Heilan Group. They are given a 40 square foot apartment, beautifully private and roomy. They started 30 years ago by taking over a government factory when China had an economic revolution. They became successful and in the early 2000’s built a visionary state-of-the-art factory for tailoring and another for casual wear.
They took partnerships for distribution with Versace Jeans, and a few other brands, and launched their own brand 'Heilan Jeans' for the equivalent Chinese market at a different price point with sales channels all over China. They then launched SanCanal, a stunning collection of expertly tailored suits for the Chinese high-end market. This collection’s distribution grew with sales partners, internally and externally taking it to stores all over China. They were then commissioned to create many uniform collections for banks and airlines that had a unique design developed for them. Leading corporations in China are focused on ensuring their staff have smart, professional, bespoke uniforms. Bespoke Textiles know the importance of boutique hotel and hospitality uniforms and how big a factor it can be on staff morale and lifestyle.
Click here to read about the importance of uniforms on staff morale
We are launching an additional service - Factory Introductions and Introductions to tried and tested factories.
Bespoke Textiles will help you set up communication without needing a translator, make sure your products have all the relevant technical information and save you time, money and mistakes, ensuring you work with superb factories that are specialists in their fields and match your minimum requirements.
If you are interested in our new ‘Introductions’ service please get in touch and we can send you our specialist factory list of global partners, their product niche and volume requirements to see if it’s a fit for you.
From Teddies to Tiaras - Luxury uniforms to Umbrellas, Bags to Brooches. You name it, we’ve made it, learnt the lessons, loved the journey and selected our top partners we actually use and would recommend. Our cross-cultural teams can offer advice and consultation services along the way. Or, like many of our core clients with very full plates, you can have our full Bespoke service and we will do it all for you. We get your approval at every stage to reassure you.
If you are interested in this service, please get in touch with us by emailing us at:
'After successfully producing sustainably sourced uniforms for Bills Restaurants, they asked us if we could source and develop blankets. Blankets were a new challenge for Bespoke Textiles’ design team so we embarked on sourcing possible suppliers, starting in the UK and eventually branching out to scour the global textiles sources that would fit Bill's Restaurant’s quality requirements and price range.
Click here to find out more about the UK textile manufacturing industry
However, we needed to hit the right price point of a £15-20 budget per piece and produce a blanket that was luxurious and durable enough to sustain industrial washing and mass consumer use. Balancing aesthetic, quality and value is our speciality! We work with mills and manufacturing directly to deliver a well designed ‘fit for purpose’ product.
Click here to see how we do the same for uniform design.
We have to ask ourselves: “Is this what the client/ consumer really wants and will love?” This is the most important point that good designers have to deliver on.
We eventually found a niche area in the depths of North China that specialised in blankets and ticked all of our boxes. Part of our methodology is to, trial, test, and vet our sources fully and if they match our seal of approval then we can proudly confirm with the client that we can meet their requests. As part of Bespoke Textiles’ rigorous vetting of factories, Katie was thrilled to find they were packing Fortnum and Mason blankets.
This reassured us that our clients (now including The Ivy Collection) would be proud to have their blankets made by the same ethical, high end sources.
Our founder, Katie Young Gerald has 25 years’ experience working with China’s manufacturing and clothing industry, so she was keen to develop a relationship with this factory.
Click here to read more about Katie’s experiences in the textiles world
Some preliminary research and enquiries showed that this was a company we could work with and create high-end quality blankets for Bill's Restaurants. This particular factory also supplies 80% of the Australian blanket market and almost all the army blankets for most of the world.
The Steps for Making a Blanket:
We’d like to show you the steps we discovered when visiting the factory in January. Seeing them making the blankets from ‘Fibre to finishing' was fascinating. Bespoke Textiles think you may find it fascinating too!
1.Turning the Yarn:
Katie was treated to a tour of the factory where she saw the entire blanket making process from start to end. It began when she met Emily and was taken to the weaving workshop where she saw reams of fabric as far as the eye could see.
She could see the first and second stages of the blanket making process, which is to turn the yarn then twist it into a thread.
The thread is then spooled.
The threads are then woven together on large frames to form the pattern. A lot of thread is used at this stage and is hung from very high on the ceiling to make sure there is no confusion to the design or tangling.
Once a blanket is woven it has a texture almost like canvas !
To counter this effect it is brushed by a machine that is coated in a very fine metal mesh to remove any stray fibres and make the blanket extremely soft.
The blanket is then washed to further reduce the possibility of stray fibres and ensure it is hygienic.
The blanket is then dyed.
8. Quality Control
Rigorous quality control checks are then performed to make sure the product is 100% up to the specification.
Once the blanket has passed all of the quality control checks it is packaged hygienically ready for storage and export.
After a very informative trip to China to see this factory’s blanket making process we were off! We were able to develop a bespoke collection of blankets for Bill's Restaurants which was followed by a highly successful launch and even another commission to produce another line of bespoke blankets for our client’s sister brand, The Ivy Collection.
It really was an eye-opening experience that exposed the level of work and technology that goes into a product that is only £18, which makes you think about the craftsmanship and skill that goes into the blanket-making process.
Not only is China very capable of producing high-quality materials and products, they also work hard create a pleasant working environment. The Chinese factories we found completely debunked the myths of poor working standards that we know of from 20 years ago. The average worker stayed working for this particular company for 15 years and the workforce tend to live locally, as opposed to forming part of a migrating community just for factory work.
They have worked hard to ensure that there is skilled, interesting work, healthy salaries, good working conditions, family-like friendly environment with regular long breaks and the added bonus of being able to live with family locally for a balanced wholesome lifestyle. Katie Young Gerald commented that:
The common thread I find with all our factory partners is they are family businesses who have worked hard to build something strong and stable with the 1st generation of founders still working daily in the business. There are plenty of ethical and sustainable textile uniform and accessory solutions in China and I am dedicated to making them work for UK brands! I would like to thank everyone who was so accommodating and informative at the blanket factory in China, particularly experiencing their delicious hot-pot cuisine. Especially as it was -4 degrees outside at the time.
If you would like to know more about how Bespoke Textiles can cut out the middle man, streamline your sourcing issues and help you produce a bespoke collection of uniforms or other textile products please get in touch by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
An exhibition at the V&A running from 16th June 2018
As a London based designer, I have at my fingertips access to some of the world’s best museums, exhibitions and shows not only to use as inspiration, but to appreciate the history and development of print making, fabrics and styles. What better way to spend a Friday than pouring over the iconic fabrics, cuts and styles of great figures, celebrities and true artists? In light of this, I was delighted to hear that the V&A would be putting on a dedicated exhibition to one of the most inspiring artists of the 20th century, Frida Kahlo. The exhibition boasts a fresh perspective on Kahlo’s compelling life story through her most intimate personal belongings. I imagine that by looking at her personal artefacts and clothing a vivid picture of her life can be visualized. I always believe that clothes tell a story, from idea conception, to design, to the production process - an article of clothing has an intended audience envisioned with their entire life implied from the get-go.
The traditional Mexican prints and designs of her clothing were intended to carry on the cultural ideals of 20th century-Mexico, with a nod of the head towards practicality for a woman of her status and lifestyle. Between these two points the entire life of a woman may be assumed; cooking, cleaning, leisure, romance and social standing. The stitching is neat, the patterns are elaborate and intricate without being overwhelming. The speak of warm, dusty days where sunlight tries in vain to fade the vibrant and alive colours. Just looking at the embroidered edging in her skirt makes me imagine a whole host of cushions, napkins and couture articles of clothing just itching to be made. I feel this exhibition will be inspirational and a true testament to the craftsmanship and dedication of pre-mass production clothes makers. And it’s always wonderful to look at vintage clothing to get the creativity and the juices flowing!
It is important to remember that so much of this woman’s life is known through her artwork, which richly explores her vivid interior life, and her love letters have been published and poured over as romantic and beautiful examples of devotion and excitement. Personally, I feel an excitement in what is not known about her and can only be told through her clothes. We may find out a lot of physical quirks she had; perhaps she tended to spill on her left side only, maybe due to the way she pulled on a coat the right side of her clothes was more prone to wear and tear. The infinite details of a person can be read in the way they wear and treat their clothes.
This is something every single designer has to bear in mind when designing and producing clothing. I design clothes and collections that are not just beautiful, sustainably, responsibly made but also are purposeful for its lifetime. My work with producing sustainable clothing and uniforms for the hospitality industry has lead to me thinking greatly about the way in which waiting on clients makes a person move, and how their uniforms must accommodate this. The way in which a person might put their hand in their apron pocket informs me how high to place it, how wide and what depth it should be. A human being is at the basis of every uniform concept that I work with. I’m fond of saying that clothes tell a story, but I think it is important to remember that real life humans are the characters in that story.
I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Vivienne Westwood documentary, directed by Lorna Tucker. Despite its controversial reviews I thought it was well researched and well produced; throwing light on many of the wonderful things she has achieved. I found the documentary insightful towards the industry, and was surprised to find that Vivienne’s story and views deeply resonated with my own views and beliefs.
I was particularly moved by one of the predominant themes;
that incredible people come from all walks of life.
And Vivienne was certainly incredible. At the age of 11 she started making her own clothes, I know from experience that this is a great feat indeed, to be so creative and practical at a young age is incredible indeed
There is a poignant moment in the documentary where they interview Vivienne about her life and she says: “I was this northern woman, married at the age of 21, (and had her first son, Ben, at the age of 22) was a bit stupid”. She knew that she couldn’t carry on with this marriage and being a housewife having no intellectual expansion. She had to go and broaden her horizons and learn a thing or two about the real world. A bold but true statement for many women even today. My own dreams couldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in my home town in Somerset!
I was also very impressed with the way in which the documentary took great pains to emphasise Vivienne’s ethos that:
“Clothes need to command action and engagement”
nI too have always firmly believed that clothes need to tell a story. Clothes that tell a story are timeless and that’s just what clothes are meant to be; absolutely iconic and timeless in their own right. With Vivienne you can expect the unexpected; beautiful, ornate, incredible cut, draped collections and then contrast anarchy, activism punk, rock. She creates and reproduces garments; her idea is to reduce her product offering and rework things until they are completely right. That’s what I love about dressing and style development for my own bespoke fashion collections; I create a response, I create harmony, I create connection through clothes. I make things last forever, often repaired to death.
What an inspiring contribution this woman continues to make with her activism and campaigning! She utilizes her celebrity status as one of the most iconic designers ever to make a difference in accordance with her vale and beliefs. She is at heart a rebel, looking to overthrow conformity and mediocrity in as many ways as she can.
Anyone who doesn’t love this documentary, I believe, is not only being unintelligent but unimaginative Seeing the depths that this visionary has achieved for real people, real emotion and real values was a pleasure and a delight to watch.
When you think about the hospitality industry you imagine (ideally) well-tailored and stylish uniforms that are sophisticated yet understated, striking the right balance between professional and practical. Yet at the same time thinking about uniforms can cause a shudder from the memory of the ill-fitting, unpleasant materials of the dreaded school uniform; the symbol of the end of the summer holiday and the onset of homework. This might be why over 75%-300% of staff leave hospitality roles! That’s where Bespoke Textiles comes in.
Our founder, Katie Young Gerald, set up Bespoke Textiles nine years ago to design and supply the world of hospitality textiles, specialising in sustainable yet stylish uniforms and textiles for tables, on the back of building collections and supply sources for fashion brands.
When an employer is looking to source uniforms for a large body of staff they should try and bear in mind that new bodies will arrive in different shapes and sizes and need to have the right fit in the right sex available. The problem is no one ever thinks they have a uniform or sourcing problem until they have one! But when they do, it becomes a huge headache, and usually someone’s extra work load to solve the problem and source the uniforms. Expensive errors caused by limited options, expertise and insight occur; and often bridging the gap with short term solutions can lead to an amazing amount of waste of time and money.
Embracing the fact that there is a diversity of body shapes and being able to know how to dress them well to improve self-esteem and general morale is a challenge. Happy staff are proven to be more proactive, show initiative and perform better, stay longer. They also care more.
Bespoke Textiles have honed their approach to sourcing and designing well-made, quality uniform collections.
To begin with, we sit down with a client to gather inspirational elements, using all kinds of pictures, swatches and garment references. Then, we narrow the vision down into one story, one message, one brand. You soon find that unique ideas start to reveal themselves. Combining a base garment with these ideas and brand touches provides the perfect springboard for a fresh new uniform, or other textile-based product.
People are the heart of every carefully chosen organisation that we work with, ensuring great quality relationships. Visiting clients and factories to find out what they do and how, is vital in connecting and collaborating. The businesses we work with behave like one big tribe, a team. Uniforms are vital in this, to create a sense of belonging and unity. Bespoke Textiles is dedicated to finding a solution to uniform issues.
For these reasons and many more, Bespoke Textiles is proud to contribute to the happiness of your staff.
Bespoke Textiles has a strong dedication to sustainable fashion and ethical practices, stemming from our Founder, Katie Young Gerald. She has always been passionate about vintage fashion and upcycling what may seem like tired, old garments and this has been embedded into the business.
For the next edition of our new monthly series we interviewed Francesca at Ethical Unicorn blog about sustainable fashion and how it impacts her life.
What does “sustainable fashion” mean to you?
In a nutshell I think it's fashion that is created in a way that does minimal harm to the planet or the beings that inhabit it, and hopefully benefits them instead. This can take many forms, but it essentially always boils down to that desire.
What is something you wish people knew about sustainable fashion?
There are a lot of factors to consider, which can seem intimidating, but I think it also means there's lots of different ways you can get involved that work for you! You don't have to buy from really expensive sustainable fashion designers all the time, you can try thrifting, clothes swaps with friends, or maybe even learning skills like making or mending your own clothes. There are also lots of different ways fashion can be sustainable, because there are so many materials and processes out there, so it's not as limiting as you might think.
Who inspires you and why?
So many people! At the moment in the sustainable world it's probably Alden from Ecocult, because of her relatable approach to journalism, in-depth research and ability to build something like ethical writers & creatives, but also her willingness to be corrected and hold on to humility, which I think is important in the internet world!
Which sustainable fashion brands do you like?
I love Grammar. It was really cool to write about them when they were still fundraising and now to see their products in real life! Their white shirts are beautiful (even my mum has one!). Lara intimates will probably be my favourite underwear brand for the rest of my life, not just because they're sustainable and comfortable, but because they helped me learn I was wearing the wrong bra size and they actually make bras in the right size for me. I also love Traid for thrifting.
Have you ever had an issue of ethics arise in the past?
I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had to deal with anything too bad, because I’m quite strict about who I would want to work with. I think the hardest issue is that it's impossible to please everybody. It’s part of putting yourself out on the internet and there's no completely perfect company I could work with, which is why I try and explain as much as possible in my blog posts.
Do you have any inside tips on where we really shouldn’t buy our clothes anymore?
Honestly, just the high street. Right now I don't think there's anything coming out of mainstream high street brands that I could get behind (there's a lot of greenwashing out there and murky supply chains). That doesn't mean that people have to suddenly start buying mega expensive ethical fashion, but moving over to shopping vintage or preloved (like Ebay and Depop) is a great place to start
What do you do to help slow fashion?
I haven't grown in a solid ten years, so I still hold on to clothes that I’ve had since I was an early teen. I think a big part of being sustainable is looking after what we already have. Aside from this, obviously I have more pieces from sustainable companies that get sent to me, which isn't the experience of normal people, so I make sure to look after those pieces carefully so that I can hold on to them for decades to come. Nearly everything else I ever buy is second hand. The UK has amazing charity shops, so I have everything I could ever need just at my fingertips, but funnily enough I barely ever shop, which is pretty ironic for a fashion blogger!
We would like to thank Francesca at Ethical Unicorn blog for sharing her views on sustainable fashion with us. We hope you enjoyed the second edition of our new monthly series!
Our Founder, Katie Young Gerald, is speaking at fashion trade show Pure London today. She will be discussing her 25 years experience in the luxury fashion, textiles and interiors industries; providing insights in how to source and supply luxury textiles, clothing and uniforms and how to build established partnerships across the globe.
Bespoke Textiles has a strong dedication to sustainable fashion and ethical practices, stemming from our Founder, Katie Young Gerald. She has always been passionate about vintage fashion and upcycling what may seem like tired, old garments and this has been embedded into the business. As part of a new monthly series in which we speak to sustainable/ethical bloggers who share our views, we interview slow fashion / cruelty free beauty blogger Emma from Not My First Rodeo about sustainable fashion and how it impacts her life.
What does “sustainable fashion” mean to you?
I started to learn about sustainable fashion through capsule wardrobing. Initially I just started this as a way to get my confidence back after having children and used it simply as a framework for building up a small but good quality new wardrobe from scratch. However, as time went on I started to learn more about the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry and the sustainable fashion movement.
To me sustainability is about realising that the manufacturing of clothing has a substantial impact on the environment. The clothing industry is the second most polluting industry after oil (Source: Forbes). So we need to start treating the clothing that we own with love and care, rather than seeing them as disposable. We also need to hold companies accountable for their supply chains and reject poor working conditions for clothing workers – fast fashion clothes are cheap for a reason, if we’re not paying a fair price then someone else is. Finally, the impact of different fabrics on the environment. For example, synthetic fabrics are non bio-degradable but natural fabrics such as cotton require huge amounts of water to produce. One cotton shirt takes the same amount of water to produce (2700 gallons) as a person drinks in 2.5 years. (Source)
So to me, sustainable fashion is not just about buying from niche ethical/sustainable brands but an overall shift in attitude – we buy less clothes, we wear them for longer and we generally hold them in higher regard.
What is something you wish people knew about sustainable fashion?
The average consumer is buying 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but keeping each item half as long! (Source) This is a staggering statistic showing just how the disposable clothing culture is getting out of hand.
In terms of fabric, many people don’t realise that a single cotton shirt takes as much water to produce as one person drinks in 2.5 years! (Source) Cotton is also one of the most pesticide hungry crops on the planet so it’s important to go for organic cotton whenever you can.
Man-made fibres are no better. In fact, the carbon footprint of a polyester shirt is double that of cotton (source) and when clothing made of polyester inevitably reaches landfill, it takes decades to breakdown into tiny plastic fibres that then make their way into the ocean and food chain.
Is there someone who inspires you and why?
I’m very inspired by Stella McCartney who’s been pushing the ethical and sustainable fashion agenda for decades, before it started to get the platform it has now. She was quoted as saying “I design clothes that are meant to last. I believe in creating pieces that are not going to get burnt, that are not going to landfills and that are not going to damage the environment. For every piece in every collection, I am always asking what have we done to make this garment more sustainable and what else can we do?”
I admire her for showing that it is possible to stick by your personal principles and break through into high fashion. Even her stores use electricity generated by wind power – she’s a real inspiration.
Have you ever had an issue of ethics arise in the past?
At the moment I’m trying to decide in my own head where I stand on the issue of animal leather vs synthetic. I’ve adopted a plant based diet primarily for environmental reasons but animal welfare is also very important to me. But what is best? Items made from polyurethane that’s produced from fossil fuels and produce toxic by-products; or leather from animals where leather tanning is one of the top 10 pollution problems in the world? It’s certainly something I’m really closely monitoring at the moment and any new innovations (such as Pinatex which is made from Pineapple) are firmly on my radar.
What do you do to help slow fashion?
Whilst I am super interested in sustainable brands, my “thing” when it comes to promoting a slow fashion message is to simply buy less, wear more. That could be through building a small capsule wardrobe or buying more second hand clothes. My fashion blog is not aimed at an already eco conscious market but ordinary women who I’m bringing along with me on the journey to a more conscious lifestyle, one small change at a time. Breaking out of the fast fashion addiction is just the first rung on the ladder.
We would like to thank Emma for sharing her views on sustainable fashion with us. There are some points that we particularly align with and it’s great that Emma shares the same views as us. Sustainability is a core value for us, and our founder, Katie is all about creating timeless classics that last forever and buying special vintage pieces to help slow fashion, coinciding with Emma’s techniques to help slow fashion. We hope you enjoyed the first of our new monthly series!
The state of the UK textiles industry is hugely important to us here at Bespoke Textiles. Our vast-volume orders are manufactured in Asia but for small, bespoke orders, we use UK based factories. Make It British's recent survey found textile production in the UK was up 20% and 50% of businesses reported an increase in turnover compared to last year. Many argue the need for these skills in Britain is redundant because of low costs associated with manufacturing in the likes of China, India and Bangladesh; however, these survey figures dispute this.
Make It British names the exchange rate accounting partly for the increase in production and turnover. One manufacturer reported: “as the pound loses its value our turnover has increased by 30%”. The opportunity for growth remains, with a third of textiles manufacturers not yet exporting goods. In addition, more than half said that they are receiving more enquiries than they were a year ago, as more companies look to source locally and restore their production back to the UK.
Find more information here.
This week our founder Katie Young Gerald, an expert in sustainable uniform/textile design, is in Hong Kong for Hong Kong Fashion Week. On Monday, she spoke about her experience of working in the fashion and textiles industry specifically with luxury brands. Katie is no stranger to Hong Kong having lived there for two years from 1997 to 1999. During this time Katie was able to expand her knowledge and connections in the Far East for sourcing, product development, manufacturing & consultancy for British brands, which she then continued to do in London from 2000 until today. Her services filled a gap for smaller British brands who needed to build a bespoke product range and establish a sustainable supply chain with ethical practices.
See below a video of Katie taking part in a Q&A at Hong Kong Fashion Week: