Why do we make in London?
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
From the beginning I always wanted Scaral to be a ‘Made in the UK’ brand. Britain is looking at challenging times as we leave the EU and are forced to look for closer relationships overseas and I was struck with the knowledge that supporting UK industry has never been more critical. Being from east London I was aware that historically we had a significant leather industry on this side of town. The City of London Corporation banned leather tanning in the 19th century because it smelt so bad and so the tanneries took up residence in Bermondsey, where presumably no one noticed the stench of urine and faeces used to soften the skins. As labour and rent grew cheaper outside the capital, the last tannery closed in 1997.
The tanneries may have vanished from our backstreets but we still have many leather goods factories working diligently on quiet industrial estates and beneath urban railway arches. The challenge for an outsider like me was to find them and get through the door. Strangely it was easier to find a factory in China or Spain. The internet is littered with Asian factories reaching out to startups and offering low cost manufacturing.
It’s tempting to accept what is easy but we wanted Scaral to represent something more than the easy choice. Supporting local manufacturing is important because it builds networks within communities, provides jobs, and enables ongoing conversations between designer and maker. It will never be the cheapest option, but businesses must recognise they have an opportunity to become a member of an important community.
A city like London benefits hugely from having such communities of varied manufacturers and makers. A broad local economy creates resilience by generating high skilled jobs. As we begin to wake up to the effect of AI and further automation we may find that one of the few sectors left open to job seekers and career changers is ‘making’, whether in a large team or on a smaller kitchen-table scale.
In turn, manufacturing and ‘making’ supports local and regional suppliers of materials and services. If we fail to support local factories and artisans and instead outsource our production to Spain or China then our local makers will simply wither and die.
As consumers we must educate ourselves as to the impact of our choices - when we buy local our money supports an invisible infrastructure of individuals who live close to you, send their children to the same school, or catch the same train. We can make Britain a nation of unique makers again, but only if we make ethical choices at the checkout.