Community Clothing is the brand with a refreshingly unique angle on sustainable clothing. Made in Britain with an emphasis on quality, its limited edition collection for Topshop is all about affordable everyday essentials and unisex wardrobe staples. We spoke to founder Patrick Grant to learn more about his mission…
What prompted you to set up community clothing?
Cotton textile factories, sewing factories, and knitwear factories – they were once important things. Not just for the value of the jobs they created, but the sense of identity they created. We had this fantastic network of these factories, and many of them were having a tough time. Then, about three years ago, one of those factories (Cookson and Clegg in Blackburn) was going to be shut down. We’d been working with them for a while and we knew the team very well. The factory had been in the town since 1860, so it had a great history, but I also felt it had a great future. One of the biggest problems was that the factory was empty for half of the year. Many of the factories that now make for Community Clothing were producing for brands that only have two collections a year, which meant they were super busy for two or three months of the year and then really quiet the rest of the year. So it struck me that if you could fix this problem of seasonality you could instantly fill the factories all-year-round you could get into a positive cycle of rising volumes, growing investment, growing jobs and rising efficiency.
How does Community Clothing differ from your other brands E.Tautz and Norton and Sons?
We are making too much disposable clothing in the world and it’s becoming an incredibly massive problem. It’s gotten to a point where it’s really hard to find good quality clothes that are also affordable. There is plenty of great quality clothing, but it’s really expensive. And that’s a problem. If people can only afford to buy rubbish stuff then that’s all they’re going to buy and it’s going to be worn, break down quickly and then thrown away. So the philosophy of making great stuff is shared in all our brands. I love stuff that really lasts, the top I’m wearing is 25 years old. I like clothes that get better with age.
Who is the Community Clothing customer?
We do have people of all ages, because I think young people are very, very aware right now. Everybody knows about the problem with plastic and that is translating into people being much more thoughtful about other areas. Clothing? There is a lot of plastic used in clothing, but people don’t see it. People don’t think of polyester as a plastic but it is. Our customers are very aware of the implications of their actions in clothing.
What’s your favourite piece from the Topshop x Community Clothing Collection?
I like the full English t-shirt, partly because it was my idea, partly because I just think it’s fun. It tells a story. This is the first time in probably over 30 years that something as simple as a t-shirt has been completely remade in the UK. We worked really hard to establish that supply chain. There are easy ways of making a t-shirt, but we’ve gone about in a way that has required an awful lot of work. English Fine Cottons, who spin the yarn in Dukinfield, invested 6 million in their facility to make the yarn-spinning possible. It’s crazy that this hasn’t been possible in this country in past year when we think of how big our cotton industry used to be. It used to employ 700,000 people in Lancashire alone. So we’re really proud that we’ve been able to establish this thing, we hope it leads to an enormous resurgence.
How do you see the brand evolving in the future?
We have lots more product to add for men and women and we would like to do kids-wear at some point. What we want to do is rebuild long-term relationships with factories where we co-create the facilities. We’re also already looking at things like simple home-wear, like table napkins and bed linen. We have to train young people, there aren’t enough skilled sewing machinists and you can’t just learn to sew on a Harrington jacket or an overcoat -you have to start on something simple. We have to help our factories because many of them haven’t been training people for decades because they haven’t felt the need.