Mon, Aug 27, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Small-scale clothes making catches on

AP, LONDON

Britain’s Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle in January leave after a visit to Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales. When Markle wore jeans from the Hiut Denim Company, there was worldwide publicity about a firm in Wales which started to re-employ workers displaced when the local factory closed, helping small companies like Hiut buck the globalization trend.

Photo: AP

Claudio Belotti knows he cut the denim that became the jeans Meghan Markle wore on one of her first outings as the fiancee of Britain’s Prince Harry.

That’s because he cuts all of the fabric for Hiut Denim, a seven-year-old company that makes jeans in Cardigan, Wales. Belotti is a craftsman with 50 years of experience that gives his work a personal touch — something that’s not quite couture but not exactly mass-produced either.

“There’s a story behind each one,” Belotti said. “You’re paying for the skill.” Customer demand for something unique is helping small companies like Hiut buck the globalization trend and set up shop in developed countries that had long seen such work disappear. While international brands like H&M and Zara still dominate the clothing market, small manufacturers are finding a niche by using technology and skill to bring down costs and targeting well-heeled customers who are willing to pay a little more for clothes that aren’t churned out by the thousands half a world away.

Profits at smaller national clothing firms grew two percent over the last five years, compared with a 25 percent decline at the top 700 traditional multinationals, according to research by Kantar Consulting.

Their success comes from promoting their small size and individuality, said Jaideep Prabhu, a professor of enterprise at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School.

“It’s a different kind of manufacturing,” he said. “They are not the Satanic mills. These are very cool little boutiques.”

Hiut, which makes nothing but jeans, employs 16 people in Cardigan and makes 160 pairs a week. Women’s styles range from about US$188 to about US$238, men’s go for about US$193 to about US$306 pounds. Each is signed by the person who sewed it, known in the company as a “Grand Master.”

By contrast, Primark says it sources products from 1,071 factories in 31 countries and keeps costs down by “buying in vast quantities.” The most expensive pair of jeans on the company’s Web site sells for about US$25.

Many of these small manufacturers also try to stand out by embracing social issues, from reducing waste to paying a living wage.

Hiut, for example, highlights its efforts to put people back to work in a small town that was devastated when a factory that employed 400 people and made 35,000 pairs of jeans a week shut down. Underscoring the years of craftsmanship that go into each pair of jeans, the company offers “free repairs for life.”

This kind of customer service helps form a “personal relationship” between a brand and the shopper that is valuable, says Anusha Couttigane of Kantar Consulting.

Customers notice. Laura Lewis-Davies, a museum worker from Wales, says she wants to support independent businesses when she can and bought a pair of Hiut jeans after seeing a story about Markle’s wearing the brand.

“Well-crafted things bring more joy,” she said. “I’d rather buy fewer things but know they’re good quality (and) made by people who are working in good conditions for a fair salary.”

FUELED BY TECHNOLOGY

The rise of small clothing makers reflects a broader shift in consumer preferences away from big brands — as evident, say, in the boom in craft beers. In fashion, technology is fueling the trend.

The Internet provides a cheap way to reach customers, while off-the-shelf artificial intelligence programs allow companies to accurately forecast demand and order materials so they can make small batches and avoid unwanted stock. That makes it possible to produce clothes that are more customized.

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