Old Town Clothing is as true a ‘British’ brand as it’s possible to be. Everything they produce is British-made from UK-made fabrics and materials. The husband and wife team behind the Norfolk-based business, Will Brown and Marie Willey, manufacture clothing of outstanding quality and with an eye to detail inspired by a deep understanding of British manufacturing and its decline in the past two decades.
Despite recent signs of recovery, they struggle to source British fabrics. In many ways this makes Old Town is a pioneer in the industry – at the head of the slow resurgence of an industry once great, but that has been through hard times.
There’s no computer aided design here; all patterns are cut based on measurements of real people and this can be seen in the resulting fit. For the quality and time these products will last, the value for money is astounding – it’s not surprising the number of dedicated customers who own whole wardrobes full of their clothing.
Will, how did you come to start the business?
The Old Town shop in Norwich started as a mix of old and new galvanised and enamel home wares, old gas cookers and kitchen cabinets, gingham duvet covers and a cotton drill ʻWorkshirt in a Boxʼ. I suppose it was a lifestyle shop at a time when old kitchen bits and pieces were of interest only to the collectible market.
Where did you passion for British manufacturing come from?
I had always had a passion for Victorian London fuelled by Dickens, the Camden Town artists, the illustrations of Phil May and the much later Geoffrey Fletcher books which were published during the 1960s depicting quaint and decrepit architectural survivors… It inﬂuenced our work.
How important is the UK-made and designed aspect of the product to you?
Made in Britain might be just another of those spurious things which people use to give their product an edge. I don’t want to do that; I would rather our garments are sold on their design merits, not by sticking on a union jack or ladling on some spurious ʻHeritageʼ.
We make in Britain because we are tiny (seventy garments per week) and it’s the only way we can think to do it. We employ a couple of people in the workshop and half a dozen ladies sewing and they are fairly mature, I hope they won’t mind me saying.
How easy do you think it is for consumers to shift to British made products today?
Earlier I had maintained some vague notion of the importance of making clothing in Britain along the lines of: Wouldnʼt it be great if we, as a country, could revive the lost manufacturing skills and start actually making stuff again?
Iʼm one of those people who doesnʼt understand how a country can survive by not making goods but apparently it does. One hears the occasional call for bringing manufacturing back but I canʼt see it happening, what sixteen year old is prepared to sit at a sewing machine when thereʼs money to be earned on a checkout while hoping to make it onto X Factor?
I’m past mourning for a Britain that was or never was. Old Townʼs been going for so long, we’ve got our own heritage now.
Old Town Clothing