I have had a shirt making factory in Gloucester for 5 years and as sales have increased both through our own business, and Mr Porter, we have needed to expand. I am frequently approached by young cutters, but I was concerned about finding new machinists as the many of the Fashion Colleges do not teach sewing either well or at all any more, and students often pay to send their final collections out to be sewn, therefore never understanding the full process. This also limits their chances of employment in the industry.
I wanted to raise the profile of sewing, the skill involved, and encourage young people again as without them we just will not be able to rescue and re stimulate our renowned clothes making industry to the UK.
Daniel Korski, one of David Cameron’s advisors, heard me speaking out about how we would waste the valuable present international interest in the Made in England/ UK label if we didn’t teach our fashion students technical skills any more, and how we needed to bring sewing skills to the forefront of recognition in the Fashion Business rather than just design and pattern making/ cutting. He invited me to Downing Street to discuss this, and subsequently introduced me to Conde Nast International who kindly sponsored the Emma Willis Sewing School, to bring sewing training to young people again.
We have employed 5 fashion degree graduates who have exceptional sewing skills, from Bournemouth, Falmouth, Bath and Nottingham and Trent, who are being trained by my two head machinists Kath Muir and Jacquie Grant who both have more than 30 years of single needle sewing experience, specialising in bespoke men’s shirts. It is fundamental to train on an industrial sewing machine to achieve the speed that is required for economical production, whether for your on business, or to be employed by another fashion house. Students typically have a year to make a few pieces for their final collection which is obviously not realistic in the commercial world. We will use our sponsorship to employ young local school leavers who will be trained by the graduates.
Graduates are being forced to take un paid internships with designers in unaffordable London. Sam Wakely, who graduated from Falmouth in 2014 and has learnt to sew bespoke men’s and women’s shirts and hand sewn silk ties in her first 3 months with us said “ I thought that I would have to go to London and take an unpaid internship to get started, and didn’t know how I would afford to do this. Instead, at Emma Willis I am paid to do what I love and have not had to leave Gloucestershire.” This is thanks to Sam’s exceptional sewing skills.
It has been incredibly encouraging developing our sewing training programme and contrary to public perception young people are embracing the challenge and responsibility of harnessing our UK crafts. Our very talented young team, and those they train, will be fundamental in growing the brand and an integral part of it. Lizzie Atkins kindly invited me to London Ethnic at LFW on Friday where she was showing her graduate collection, and we will be showcasing the sewing skills of our Conde Nast International sponsored Emma Willis Sewing School in London later this year.
I am very glad this vital craft is being recognised by the forefront of the fashion business before it is too late.