At the peak of the Industrial Revolution, so much cotton was spun in Manchester – a third of the world’s output – it was nicknamed ‘Cottonopolis’. The north of England’s textile industry has since withered, but some entrepreneurs are working to resuscitate it.
Entrepreneurs like James Eden. Having ditched a career in finance to convert the 100-year-old Salford factory where his grandfather Jack once worked into a haute menswear brand – Private White V.C., named after Jack with a nod to the Victoria Cross he won in 1917 – James Eden is doing his bit to restore the city’s textile credentials.
The company’s heroic heritage and stunningly elegant outwear has won it plaudits among the menswear intelligentsia, and his venture has proved a success (when James bought the factory in 1997 there were 30 people working there; today there are 75). So how, exactly, has he done it?
Has fashion design become a collaboration between customers and brands?
Absolutely. Due to the advent of the internet and the accessibility it creates there now exists an intimate relationship between customer and brand – you have mail surveys, engagement through social media and it’s now very easy for a global audience to give feedback and express opinions.
When making creative decisions, how important is gut feeling to you?
Creativity always comes from the gut. We don’t over-think things too much – the commercial side of our business looks at the numbers so the creative side are free to flourish!
How has the luxury consumer changed over the last couple of years?
They increasingly want products that are special and unique but that aren’t wildly overpriced. Luxury is about authenticity and distinctiveness.
Your great grandfather won a Victoria Cross during World War I. How do you feel such heroism would manifest itself in modern peacetime?
He would channel his integrity and heroism into building and running his own factory in Manchester.
In what scenarios do you have your best creative ideas?
Either in the middle of the night or when I’m running.
How do you respond to the luxury world’s tendency to change so rapidly?
Like any business, we constantly evolve. Our logistics and IT infrastructure have moved on to keep up with the level of expectations set by companies like Amazon in terms of online ordering and next day delivery.
Why is manufacture in the UK so important – to you, and to modern consumers?
From our perspective and economically, for the prosperity of our society, making, selling and exporting things is hugely important – and for the community it means more jobs and skills for workers. For the consumer, it’s important because it means not only super high quality but also transparency, social welfare and sustainability.
Why do modern consumers value vertical integration? Provenance, authenticity, value, or a combination of those things?
Definitely a combination of those. We own all the components of the production process – there’s no meddling from any third parties – and that gives us total autonomy. It also gives the consumer confidence that the product is treated with care and respect.
Does the constant need to embrace change (and then more change) invigorate you? Or does it ever feel like relentless pressure?
It can be challenging! One sound bite we use is Techno-Retro – we have huge respect for historic silhouettes and designs but we modernise them and embrace new technologies and more innovative and eco-friendly finishes and features.
How would you describe your personal sartorial approach?
Personally I like to be casual and comfortable, which gives me a lot of confidence. I prefer to wear things that are authentic and underpinned with a meaningful story, so obviously I wear a lot of Private White!