Patrick is a British fashion designer and creative director of E. Tautz and Norton & Sons. He is also the founder of UK social enterprise, Community Clothing.
Tell us about Community Clothing’s mission and work.
Community Clothing is a social enterprise with a simple mission: to make excellent quality affordable clothes for men and women, to create great jobs for skilled workers and, by doing so, help to restore real pride in Britain’s textile communities.
The UK clothing industry faces many challenges. On top of already-intense competition from cheap labour markets, one of the biggest challenges UK factories face is the seasonality of demand. For several months of every year, even the very best factories operate at well below full capacity. Community Clothing was launched in 2016 to address this exact issue.
By utilising the space capacity during quiet periods, we can make a range of stylish, high quality garments right here on home soil. We are able to create job opportunities and stability for those within the local industry. And by thinking differently, we can fill our partner factories year-round, and help ensure these great factories remain in business. Community Clothing currently works with seven factories and six key suppliers in the UK, and we’d like that number to keep growing. Importantly, we don’t just want to save them; we want to see them thrive.
When contemplating your responsibility as a designer / fashion brand, what comes to mind and why?
There are so many things to consider as a clothing designer now, which weren’t issues when I was a teenager in love with clothing and style. The fashion system has become grossly polluting and deeply wasteful. We also live in a time in which the vast majority of products are not designed with any care for the longevity of their use, or—beyond the entirely superficial—the joy of the user experience. This should weigh heavily on not only the process of design, but on the decision to design at all. It is only because I believe that Community Clothing genuinely offers something of value, namely exceptional quality products at affordable prices, that I continue to design.
How have your personal values shaped your work?
Honesty and integrity have always been important values to me personally, and they are similarly important to my work. At Community Clothing, we try to do the best work we can. We are honest in our communications and we work hard to engineer the best possible products; we don’t retouch or ‘fake’ our images, and we don’t pay for people to say good things about us. We don’t make spurious claims and we think about the long term, always. That way, we can all feel proud of the work we do and the things we make. And our customers can feel proud to buy them.
“It is only because I believe that Community Clothing genuinely offers something of value, namely exceptional quality products at affordable prices, that I continue to design.”
For those unfamiliar with England’s manufacturing industry, can you tell us about its history and how the industry has evolved over the years? What are some of the current challenges?
I did a Tedx talk on this. It’s 16 minutes long, and that’s as short as I can make the story. Please watch it.
On a personal level, why are you passionate about manufacturing locally?
Because I want to live in a society that’s equal and prosperous. I want to live where people grow up with hope and optimism. In many towns across the UK right now, that is very far from being the case.
Community Clothing seeks to act in a way that everyone involved in the enterprise, at every stage in the supply chain, along with the consumer, can feel proud of. Skilled jobs contribute to this pride; skilled work makes us feel good, mentally and physically. Manufacturing great things makes us proud too, and skilled people also make excellent quality clothes.
As a social enterprise, your focus is on retaining local skills and ensuring reliable employment for makers. What have been some of the challenges / opportunities you have encountered?
The biggest challenge is overcoming 30 years of underinvestment in technology and people. With stability and long-term prospects, however, this investment will come. We are working with schools, colleges and other training institutions to rebuild pathways into the industry.
“We work hard to keep our margins small because we want as many people as possible to play a part in this project.” The ethical fashion movement is often labelled elitist; what are your thoughts on affordability and the importance of educating customers on longer term price calculations such as cost per wear?
Our approach is simpler: we just want to make it outright affordable from the off—as it should be. The fashion industry has become far too greedy, and there are too many noses in the trough. Affordability is vital; everyone should be able to afford good quality clothing. Today, good quality clothing is small-scale and because of this, it is expensive. Affordable clothing is generally poor quality, it’s simply landfill waiting to happen. We want to change that.
“The system right now is utterly broken, but a new generation of people are growing up with a revulsion for single-use plastic and environmental harm, and they’re not going to stand for the status quo in fashion.”
Durability and lifecycle are key to the sustainability of a product; how do you ensure your garments stand the test of time?
We work with materials we know and have tested; we sew using techniques we understand; we take our time to develop products. My first degree was in Materials Science and Engineering, I love things that are designed with rigour. At Community Clothing we choose materials for function first. We simplify our products, remove superfluous details, and standardise on fabrics and trims across the lines. This is so we can use the best quality materials at our price point, and sew in the most robust way possible.
How is your brand currently engaging in lower impact practices, and in what ways would you like to improve going forward? Are there any materials or processes you’re particularly interested in?
We are constantly looking to improve every aspect of what we do, working back down the supply chain. We’re looking at non-product issues such as packaging, replacing plastic bags with cassava-based films. Step by step, we are working to engineer greater quality into everything we do.
Do you see scope for fast fashion businesses to drive positive change in the garment industry?
The best thing fast fashion businesses could do for the environment would be to shut up shop. No ‘greenwashing’ can change the fact that if you try to sell people thousands of new products every month, you’re never going to be a good guy.
What excites and/or daunts you about the future of the fashion industry and why?
The system right now is utterly broken, but a new generation of people are growing up with a revulsion for single-use plastic and environmental harm, and they’re not going to stand for the status quo in fashion. It has to change, and that’s going to create opportunities to do things better, smaller, more locally, and less greedily. And in a way that allows us all to feel proud.
Photography: Nick Andrews of Retrovista
Production Sigrid McCarthy
Sub Editor Reb Mery
Learn more about Community Clothing