Burberry cloud has a check lining for Keighley

Every cloud has a silver lining… or a check in this case. Burberry, the luxury goods giant, has decided to sell land in Leeds it had earmarked for the development of a major new manufacturing facility. The news was expected after Burberry let an option lapse on a building it owns in the city in 2017 but is still a disappointment for our city region.

On the plus side, the group has reaffirmed its commitment to Yorkshire and the UK. “As part of this we will continue to invest in our existing manufacturing operations in Castleford and Keighley, home to our iconic Burberry Heritage trench coat,” said Julie Brown, Burberry’s chief operating and financial officer. “We will also continue to grow our shared services centre in Leeds, which opened in 2017.”

Burberry’s original plan, led by former CEO and creative chief Christopher Bailey, was for the teams from Castleford and Keighley to move to a state-of-the-art manufacturing and weaving facility at Temple Works in Leeds. While visually striking, the 1830s building would have required an extensive, and expensive, rebuilding project to bring it back into use. As a Yorkshireman, Mr Bailey understood the intrinsic value of provenance in Burberry’s story and this investment would have underlined the brand’s proud history with a distinctly modern twist.

Sadly, the business case didn’t stack up and Burberry under its new leadership of Marco Gobbetti decided to stick with the status quo in Yorkshire, the heart of the group’s £2.7bn fashion empire. This is good news for Castleford and Keighley, which had been earmarked for closure under the earlier plans.

At Castleford, home to 700 employees, Burberry produces the handmade Heritage trench coat. It is a painstaking process, involving more than 100 individual processes including the intricate crafting of the collar which calls for more than 180 stitches to create a fluid curve.

Keighley’s Burberry Mill dates from the 1880s and manufactures the world famous and instantly recognisable check lining fabrics used in the trench coat as well as fabrics for accessories such as shoes and bags. Around 70 people are employed at the mill. It is hiring too; current advertised roles include weaving technicians and design managers.

These are highly skilled jobs. It can take up for a year for an individual to learn the sewing technique on the Heritage trench coat. The inherent craftsmanship, along with the design and fabric innovation, is reflected in the cost: £1,400 and upwards for an item.

The UK fashion and textile industry is undergoing a resurgence thanks to re-shoring, driven by the flight to quality and the demand for short lead times. According to industry group UKFT, the sector manufactured products worth £9.1bn in 2017 and employs more than 105,000 jobs. To keep up with growing demand, UKFT said the industry will need to create another 20,000 jobs.

Textiles remain an important aspect of our district economy, especially in Airedale and Bradford, which are home to many specialist and exporting SMEs. They form part of our wider manufacturing base of 1,200 manufacturers together employing 23,000 people, the fourth highest of any city district in the UK. All of these businesses have a shared interest in promoting the manufacturing industry to the next generation of recruits.

This is where Bradford Manufacturing Weeks comes in. More than half of Bradford district’s secondary schools – 29 out of 45 – have already signed up to this year’s event, which runs from October 7-18. Now we need manufacturers to sign up and match this interest and ensure there are enough experiences for students in manufacturing.

Nick Garthwaite, Bradford Chamber president and managing director of chemicals manufacturer Christeyns, who created the initiative last year, said: “We’ve had a phenomenal response from schools and it is so encouraging to have the appetite to get pupils into local manufacturing environments. But for this initiative to work, we need to at least match the schools involved with willing manufacturers. We are urging employers to register their interest so we at Bradford Chamber can get in touch and make these connections and experiences happen.”

Led by Bradford Chamber and delivered in partnership with school and career specialists Aspire-igen with primary sponsorship from Barclays, this year’s event aims to create 6,000 work experiences for young people by doubling involvement from the 44 manufacturers which took part last year and reaching three quarters of the district’s secondary schools. Let’s hope Burberry and other textiles manufacturers follow suit.

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club

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