Building a British brand

Building a British brand

As well as lecturing history at Westminster University, Rachael Attwood is an entrepreneur on a mission - a mission to revive British manufacturing. BQ caught up with her to hear the story of The Great British Baby Company

The Great British Baby company is looking to become to childrenswear what British Airways is to the aviation industry and Burberry is to fashion, a quintessentially British brand.

Rachael Attwood decided to launch the company whilst she was lecturing history at a top London university. Having studied British manufacturing and modern British culture for several years, she was convinced that there was still a future for manufacturing in the UK.

It wasn’t until she was shopping for clothes for her young daughter that inspiration struck her, and she dreamt up the idea for The Great British Baby Company. Since then, she hasn’t looked back.

“My journey towards founding The Great British Baby Company began unexpectedly one day in 2014. I was passing through a department store in central London when I noticed a beautiful girl's winter coat.

“I was taken by the colour and the cut of the coat and, convinced that it was perfect for my one-year-old daughter, I went over to have a better look. The coat appeared every bit as appealing up close as it did from a distance but, on turning over the tag, I was surprised to find that I would have to part with a four figure sum to take it home.

“A shop assistant noticed me admiring the coat and came over to help me. After a string of questions, I discovered that the coat was made largely from synthetic materials, that it was entirely machine manufactured, that it was not made in Britain or anywhere else in Europe, and that it was not a limited edition or special release. I was not given a single reason the coat warranted its price tag.

“And this got me thinking. Could I create children's clothing that has a value beyond simply 'looking nice', that is made of noble materials, and that is impeccably hand crafted? Could I create children's clothing that is home grown, using generations' old expertise, and that would mean something beyond cloth and thread to people? Not one to shy away from a challenge, I started researching and decided to give it a go.”

Rachael spent two years drafting up ideas for her brand, sketching designs for products and researching and sourcing suppliers to make the idea a reality. With a passion for British culture and manufacturing, she was determined that all her goods would be manufactured right here in the UK.

“The Great British Baby Company is proud to be at the luxury end of the childrenswear market and everything we sell is manufactured right here in the UK, we are very strict about that. Wherever possible, we use material sourced from across Britain. Our coats for example all have outers made from English or Scottish wool cloth, our ties are made with silk woven in the Midlands and the North West, and our belts are made by English craftsmen.

“I design all of the clothes myself. I’ve always been passionate about fashion design and tailoring. I am inspired by my grandfather who trained as a tailor and used to make tiny garments for his younger brother and sisters to practise his trade. The Great British Baby Company has a series of manufacturers across the UK that we have strong relationships with. They’re like close friends. Our manufacturers range from the Borders, to Edinburgh, Greater Manchester, lots of our cloth comes from Yorkshire which is a renowned stronghold for textile production and we also deal with companies from Wales. We spread the work across Britain so that our clothes are British in the truest sense of the word!”

Great British Baby Company Kids

Alongside designing clothing for babies and children, Rachael trained for eight years as a historian of modern British society and culture. Her PhD was even based around modern British society and culture.

"I feel narrative and storytelling are really important to us as a brand. We want to tell our customers about the heritage behind our clothes and explain the different types of craftsmanship that feature in our collection. This is reflected in the names that we give our pieces. We have a coat style called ‘The Marsden’ to commemorate Yorkshire’s textile production heritage and we called one particular colour way of our Sandringham coats ‘Farsley Rose’ as a tribute to AW Hainsworth, the Yorkshire cloth manufacturer with over 230 years of history, with which we have a collaboration.”

It is this devoutness to British heritage, and the ‘Made in Britain’ brand it champions, that Rachael feels really makes The Great British Baby Company stand out from competitors.

As one of the only luxury childrenswear brands that is completely manufactured in the UK and that uses British materials, Rachael is passionate about ensuring we, as a country, nurture our manufacturing heritage. “It is absolutely fundamental that we nurture British manufacturing.

“Luckily we have companies that are setting up and are trying to bring back industry that we had lost in the UK. A great example is English Fine Cottons. In the 19th century Britain was an absolute powerhouse in producing cotton cloth. Manchester and surrounding towns absolutely thrived as a result and that industry died out due to overseas competition and a lack of investment.

“We haven’t had cotton production for years and years in the UK, and it is really important that investment is going into businesses like English Fine Cotton and that our heritage is being restored. It’s really important not only in terms of the economy, but in terms of society as well. People historically in Britain have been bound together by industry, communities have been formed, and I think that is something so important to not only preserve but to encourage once again.”

Although The Great British Baby Company is currently a one-woman-band, Rachael is also passionate about nurturing the skills needed to help the industry grow, and about retaining our national identity.

Great British Baby Company Standing

As the result of the EU Referendum continues to linger over us, few people know what lies in store for the UK economy, Rachael included, but one thing is for sure, businesses must work together to weather whatever headwinds come our way.

When asked what more the government could do to support manufacturers, she laughed, saying a blank cheque would be ideal. Funding aside, she rallied for government and businesses to support the nation’s rich manufacturing heritage, to roll out a more extensive programme of industry-specific apprenticeships, and to promote careers in British manufacturing to young people.

“I think it is important that the government redoubles its efforts to facilitate the growth of British industry, for the sake of Britain’s economy as well as for the sake of British heritage and society.

“We’re hopefully just coming out of a period of recession, although we don’t know how the Brexit will impact us yet, and in my mind the clear way to build a strong future for the UK is to invest in homegrown talent. We must ensure that the younger generation is able to go into industry through apprenticeships and training, and we need to ensure that young adults are told that careers in British industry are valuable to the country and are prestigious. We, as a country, must look to the future.”

And Rachael is certainly one of the entrepreneurs looking to the future. With her first core range of products coming to market later next month, she is finally bearing the fruits of her labour as the company gets set to launch.

“We’re a relatively young company but we have already had a lot of interest from across the UK and even from overseas, in particular from the United States, South Korea and Japan. Consumers in these countries really love British heritage products and we’re already fielding enquiries.

“Although we’re officially launching in AutumnWinter 2016 we’ve already had many pre-orders and product requests. It’s amazing that people are putting their trust into the brand before we’ve even started!”

As the descendent of English drapers and tailors on one side of her family and Welsh woollen mill owners on the other, Rachael has always felt an affinity with traditional British clothing production.  As she launches this business, she helps draw links between past and present, and build on her family legacy.

The future certainly looks bright for The Great British Baby Company, and hopefully so for British manufacturing also.