May 26, 2017 | By Samuel Trotman
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London is making jeans again. It sounds like a fashion joke, but it’s true.
Last month (April 2016) saw the launch of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, based in Walthamstow, North London. It’s London’s first denim factory to start producing jeans again in the UK capital in over 40 years.
The brand is emerging at a time when calls for more sustainable and ethically produced clothing has never been more relevant. It was the outsourcing of Britain’s manufacturing to developing countries, opting for large volume making at low costs, that have helped contribute to the detrimental social and environmental issues that are far too often cited in the mass media. These type of ramifications have been a key inspiration for Blackhorse Lane, who are trying to challenge the commonly held, modern day attitude of short-term gains, instant gratification and disposability.
You only have to look to the brands “About” page on their website to read up on their sustainably conscious manifesto. “Think Global, Act Local” is one of the core values of the business. And that is exactly what founders Toby Clark and Han Ates set out to do when they conceived the initiative back in 2015. “Too many clothing products are now made thousands of miles away and with retail brands selling finished products shipped in via international warehouses, the customers have become disproportionally disconnected and detached from the makers of the branded clothes that they wear” said Toby Clark on the initiation of Blackhorse Lane.
THE LONDON DENIM FACTORY IS COMMITTED TO ITS SUSTAINABLE VALUES.
Connected through their mutual appreciation of community values and sustainable, high-quality produce, the pair set about starting an atelier that would combine the production of authentic artisan jeans with the establishment of a modern methodology for community living. Commenting on the atelier Toby Clark said:
“Our Factory Atelier is a connecting vehicle. It connects the makers to the consumers and connects nature to industry. We believe these values are critical elements that have been lost in modern day society.“
Both are veterans in the fashion and textile business, Toby previously menswear designer at Margaret Howell, and Han has been manufacturing tailored garments in London for the past twenty years. Combining creative and visionary forces, the pair run the atelier in a tastefully renovated 1920s factory on Blackhorse Lane in Walthamstow, the same space where Han ran his tailoring business. Harnessing the area’s expertise, the pair, together with a collective of local textile designers, an indigo specialist, leather craftsman, pattern cutters and machinists have begun crafting jeans with the “Made in London” stamp of approval. “We are currently employing 12 people, with 1 intern and 4 independent members who run their own business’ within our Atelier” said Clark.
The current capacity of the factory allows the team at Blackhorse Lane to manufacture approximately 30-50 pairs of jeans a day, 180 – 250pcs a week. “This will increase as we grow and employ more local machinists/employees.” said Clark.
And it’s this certification on the label, along with the resurgence in demand for lasting, quality products that Blackhorse are relying on. The brand are all too aware of the cheap throw away consumerism that remains in our world economy, but they are positive that public opinion is changing. And they are actively trying to shift the pendulum too. When it comes to product, the brand does not follow the fashion industries normal practise of designing in seasons. Instead designing in “years” and according to a category of textile materials, each of which are selected to last a lifetime and to avoid becoming part of society’s throwaway consumerism.
Clark went on to say “We feel by increasing our consumers knowledge through observation and learning of the processes behind the clothing and textile industry through our policy of open transparent business practise, our customers will develop renewed interest in manufacturing and the importance of respecting the makers.”
The running of the atelier itself is also geared for 21st century Britain, with a focus on a more sustainable, ethical and transparent business model. Having invested in the training of a now highly skilled local workforce, the atelier provides all employees with a real London living wage, with no zero contracts (commonly implemented across the textile industry) and the founders have introduced an employee shareholding scheme that enables all employees to directly benefit from a profitable company. Clark commented “We did this as we believe most clothing companies brands run on a capitalist pyramid structure where those at the very top make the significant profits and the wider layer of workers at the bottom, who embed their value into the products through their skill and knowledge and craftsmanship do not often receive the financial rewards that their expertise deserves.”
Blackhorse are relying on the support from their local community too. All of residents in the ateliers E17 postcode get a 17% discount on their first pair.
Toby and Han are hitting the road too, setting up shop every weekend in East London’s charming Spitafields Market, where they’re shifting pairs to denim savvy Londoners and tourists alike. “We have sold to 15 different nationalities and met 3 Japanese distributors.”
Staying true to their local London community, all Blackhorse jean styles are labelled with a London postcode, each of which feature a fit that matches the social demographic of each respective area. Take their N16 T40 (£165) for example, Blackhorse’s slimmest fit that sits comfortably with the trendy Stoke Newington crowd, or the NW3 T52 (£165), a 1950s heritage inspired fit with arcuate stitch detail, perfect for Hampstead’s more discerning denim connoisseur. And Clark believes there is a big catchment for the brand too, stating “we believe there are currently 10,000 men in London alone who would be interested to buy our jeans once the awareness level has reached their targets.”
Each of the jeans come in a range of fabrics that range from premium selvedge from the US (Cone), Japan (X) and Turkey (Orta) and feature authentic detailing and construction like union special chain stitched hem, reinforced back pocket rivets – all YKK, as well as locally sourced accents like English leather patches, local E17 screen printed pockets – with contents signed off by the maker, and swing tags that are printed 5 meters from the ateliers back door. Whats more, each pair of jeans comes with a full guarantee of – free repair for life- service.
DENIM AND DIME: THE FOOD CLUB AT THE DENIM FACTORY
One further ethos of the Atelier, is its aim to connect nature to industry, a noteworthy feat the brand has started this through growing Japanese indigo in their own allotment, located a short 10 minutes from their backdoor. The ambitious project, nurtured under Blackhorse’s – Grow & Dye – facility is being led by the brands in-house indigo specialist Katherine May. May has already begun digging beds ready to grow a plantation; a successful harvest, the brand claim, would allow opportunity to hand-dye a selection of garments, giving them an imitable, distinctive, artisan finish. The allotment will also be part of the brands educational workshops for both natural indigo and natural dyes, as well as a space for visitors of the atelier to discover seasonal vegetables growing alongside the indigo, to provide fresh produce grown in Walthamstow, by Pedro Passinhas’ for his amazing – Denim & Dine – pop up restaurant within the Factory Atelier.
And if you’re into denim making yourself you can sign up to some of the Ateliers exciting schedule of workshops. The first denim masterclass, How to Make a 5-Pocket Jean, is being hosted by local denim designer Mohsin Sajid of Endrime. Held throughout select weekends in May, August and September, participants will learn how to construct their own pair of jeans, receiving expert knowledge on all the specialist denim details on cutting, sewing and finishing. The initial classes are being run for medium to advanced levels, with beginners classes being introduced soon.
And what does the future hold for the brand?
“Within the next 3-5 years we hope our brand will have established a loyal and happy clientele both locally with the United Kingdom and offshore in the key consumer continents. Locality is very important to us and should our business prosper we would not increase its size as a large corporate structure but would stay small and nimble and look to replicate our local business model in other urban cities around the world.”
If you’re interested in Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, head to their website to find out more and even schedule you’re own visit to the factory to see it all in action.
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