How we're helping to boost manufacturing skills
Jenny Holloway's Fashion Enter factory in Haringey, north London, produces garments for some of the high street's biggest retailers, including John Lewis, Jaeger and Topshop. It's also a not-for-profit social enterprise, teaming up with fashion clients to establish a wide range of training and mentoring to help people develop the skills and experience necessary to work in fashion manufacturing.
The latest initiative – created with our support – has seen Jenny's team train and offer sustainable employment to a group of former Remploy employees with learning difficulties or disabilities, after the factories where they previously worked were closed down. Through working alongside Jenny's team, they've learned garment-making skills in a real commercial setting.
"We're a genuine social enterprise," says Jenny, who founded Fashion Enter after a career in retailing as a buyer and with her own fashion business before becoming a consultant.
She went on to work with the London Fashion Forum, offering advice and mentoring to young designers, before founding Fashion Enter under the wider company umbrella of Fashion Capital. In the summer of 2013 she won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Social Enterprise category for the London and South region.
The factory employs 84 people who produce garments from conception through to production and delivery. But when they heard about the closure of Remploy factories across the country, both Jenny and Jo Hooper, our Head of Womenswear Buying, wanted to help.
John Lewis contributed £15,000 so that Jenny could employ 4 ex-Remploy staff and retrain them to work on a variety of tasks within the factory, thanks to the provision of support assistants and sign language interpreters.Each have been trained by their colleagues, and now work on jobs ranging from machining to producing labels and pressing the finished garments. The funding from John Lewis "subsidises their training, and also the fact that they're learning and are not going to be as fast as everyone else," says Jenny. "The money means we can sustain their training."
Being able to help former Remploy employees means a lot to Jenny and to Jo, whose experience of manufacturing meant they knew what an impact the Remploy factories' closures would have had on those affected. "The people who worked there were completely disheartened," recalls Jenny. "It's a horrendous thing to happen in anybody's life. You should always have something to aspire to." Making the transition from the 'very controlled work' undertaken at Remploy factories to the environment of a fast-paced commercial manufacturing unit was a challenge, but with support and training they're thriving, says Jenny.
For a retailer like John Lewis, there are real benefits to working with UK manufacturers, and our buying teams have been part of a move to support and promote 'Made in the UK' products.Fashion Enter manufactures garments for Collection by John Lewis. Jo Hooper comments: "Working with UK-based manufacturers gives you speed to market, excellent communications and the ability to react fast and keep up with trends, but the biggest challenge for UK manufacturing is the skills base."She hopes John Lewis will be able to continue supporting Fashion Enter's work with ex-Remploy workers. "Everyone who's been there [to Fashion Enter] from buying thinks it's fantastic. It's a great unit and one of very few left of that standard in London," says Jo. "It's a good alliance of supporting the community and the commercial needs of the business."This feature originally appeared in the John Lewis Partnership Gazette 6 September 2013