On a rare hot summers day, team Fashion Insiders visits the North London based garment manufacturer Fashion Enter. Having seen many London factories over the years, sadly my expectations weren’t high. So what a pleasant surprise it was to come to a street that has a “London mews” feel, set within a quiet industrial zone, and see the open wide large door of the main building, exposing a large seating area open to the outside.
Later we learn that this area is where the students take breaks and hang out.
But more of that later….
Back to the beginning…
We meet with Jenni Sutton, the Development Director within Fashion Enter who spends the time to show us around and tell us about the company.
Founded by Jenny Holloway, a former buyer for high street mega brands like M&S, Littlewoods and the Arcadia Group, Fashion Enter started out in 2001 originally as a mentoring scheme. But when funding ended with no prospects for prompt renewal, Jenny set up her own company in 2006 as a way to continue offering the much sought after teaching. To support financially the scheme, she added on manufacturing facilities in 2008 and turned Fashion Enter into a Social Enterprise – in other words, a business where profits are reinvested in the business.
Initially, Fashion Enter had a strong retail bias but soon Jenny saw an opportunity to grow the manufacturing and education arms of the enterprise.
Today the factory is well established and has a capacity to manufacture 10 000 units per week in their main factory unit (where they specialise in orders of over 500 units). With clients like ASOS who regularly keep the factory busy with production runs of core ranges – the average output is 6-8 thousand units per week. The main speciality is working with jersey and scuba fabric.
Fashion Studio – For Startups
A smaller premium sampling unit known as the Fashion studio specialises in working with startups and independent designers. From sampling to short production runs of 1 to 300 units, there is often the place where first collections take shape. While the machinists are skilled in any material, the speciality is swimwear, activewear, tailoring and kids wear.
To keep to the core value of transparency, the sampling is charged at an hourly rate. Working with senior pattern cutter is charged at £28.50 p/hr, while stitching and regular pattern cutters time are charged at £26.80 (process are correct at time of publishing).
Couture – For One Off Requests
A smaller section known as the Couture area deals with special one of requests and higher end commissions.
Fashion Enter is proud to call itself Ethical manufacturer and are regularly audited by SMETA and Fast Forward partner. (Fast Forward is an initiative set up in 2014 with ASOS being one of the founding members of the initiative, which involves other major UK retailers, aimed at addressing UK-specific supply chain issues)
As a result of these audits and working for large high street retailers with high expectations and demands, the factory is one of the best we have seen in terms of policies, procedures and QC set up.
As we take a tour of the factory and admire the orderly and clean environment, we hear chatter in various languages. It is not a surprise to learn that the factory’s employees boast a modest total of 11 nationalities.
When we ask what are some of the biggest challenges the business faces today – it is the issue of recruiting new machinists and skilled workers that immediately comes up in the conversation.
Currently, the business has 10 vacancies for machinist they are struggling to fill. With Brexit looming over our heads, the influx of skilled eastern European workers has decreased and there simply isn’t enough British skilled workers to fill the gap. “ …but Brexit just makes it all the more vital that we re-skill our own youngsters,” she says.
With that in mind since the beginning, Jenny has held firmly onto the mentoring and education part of the business and developed it to what it is today – one of the best training courses for fashion and perhaps one of the very few if not the only technical and practical fashion apprenticeship in the country.
The Fashion Technology Academy by Fashion Enter, offers taster courses – in other words, short and weekend courses for those who are curious, want to develop new skills or a hobby or need a refresher.
These courses are also aimed to prepare people with ideas, budding fashionpreneurs, to develop the ideas, learn about the process and get everything ready and in place in order to be able to move on and use the manufacturing studio and progress to sampling.
For those who have more serious intentions, Fashion Enter is a recognised ESFA approved Training Provider for apprenticeships from level 2 – 5 centring on technical skill excellence in garment technology, pattern cutting and stitching.
Level 1 is open to 16+ who are not in a full-time education and there is a governmental help allowance offered.
Students who complete level 3 courses can find jobs as Garment Techs in the industry. The training itself takes 18 months and graduates often end up in a job before they have even finished the course. Companies that take part of the apprentice scheme and offer work placements within their companies range from designer brands Ralph & Russo, Saville Row tailors and high street stalwarts like high street brands Tesco’s F+F design studio, M&S, Jigsaw and many others.
Another challenge the Fashion Enter management faces is getting the word out about their courses to college leavers, who may not be so creative, but would love to work in the industry. Fashion colleges sadly do not do enough to educate students on all the “designer” alternative career choices there are post-college. Catching their attention, later on, is harder. But clearly not impossible judging by the lovely spaces allocated to the educational workrooms and the lovely “common room” space that opens up to the courtyard.
As we leave Fashion Enter and bid our lovely host Jenny goodbye, we leave elated and proud to know that something as good as Fashion Enter exists; that this social enterprise is slowly and single-handedly releasing skilled and well trained new blood into the industry.