KEEPING LONDON'S TEXTILE INDUSTRY ALIVE
London has a strong heritage of textile and clothing production. The city has been a textile centre for around a thousand years. Acts of Parliament in the middle ages down to the eighteenth century, dealt in detail with the regulation of the product, import and export of cloth through London. The textile industry was at the heart of Britain’s industrial expansion in the Victorian period. Towards the end of the 19th century, many factories move east to Newham and Hackney, where textile manufacturing remained until very recently. Can you believe that? It’s sometimes difficult to picture among the quickly changing building facades and the old buildings beings swept away by gentrification. However, there are still enough warehouses and people that have been in the trade for decades to tell those stories.
One of them is Burhan, the owner of Rize Designs, a factory in North London. We met him through Clare, our designer, and produced with him the first samples of our collection. It wasn’t until some months later that we decided to keep our t-shirt production in London. First, our t-shirts contain a very delicate jersey fabric that requires a particular sewing machine that Ared (the social factory where we produce the rest of our collection) doesn’t have. Second, the t-shirts are quite possibly the most difficult piece our collection, due to how carefully the fabric needs to be handled in the manufacturing process. We wanted to produce with somebody that we fully trusted and at a factory that we could frequently visit to check on the quality of the pieces.
Antonia and I often refer to Burhan as our t-shirt Guardian Angel. He and his team at Rize work tirelessly with us to create the beautiful t-shirts that you can see in our shop today. It was no easy task: we wanted to create t-shirts with an organic, soft fabric that was easily stretchable and wouldn’t allow them to add any synthetic support to prevent stretch. We went through 20 sampling rounds, testing all possible options. We even approved a design that seemed right but wasn’t, and had to backtrack and correct a rather large production run.
Burhan was with us every step of the way, helping us every day, bringing new ideas, and never challenging our reluctance to agree with manufacturing conventions that would leave us with a partly synthetic product. He did all this with a smile in his face and tireless energy, and quite possibly if it weren't for him, we wouldn’t be selling t-shirts – which have become one of our bestselling products.
BURHAN, A.K.A. THE BOSS
After almost a year working together, walking into Rize Designs feels a bit like visiting our second home. Burhan works there with four machinists and a pattern cutter, and the warehouse is always full of the beautiful designs that they make. The place has a real feeling of community, carefully curated by Burhan. Their big kitchen opens at the back, where the small team breaks at 11 for tea, at 1 for lunch, and at 3 for afternoon tea. They all eat together, joke around, tease each other. There’s always music playing, from the phone of the employee that calls dibs first, and natural light pours in through the small windows that look into a busy street. Garment manufacturing is hard work – we got a glimpse of it the days that we spent at the factory, leaning over the t-shirts with our machinists and helping pack orders. Our backs ached, our feet ached, and we were the ones that worked the least. But it’s also beautiful, rewarding work, and it brings us so much joy that we get to work with such an excellent team of people.
IVANA AT WORK
STEAMING OF ONE OF OUR T-SHIRTS
Burhan told us that most of their work these days is sampling. They work with many well-known brands who need their sampling to be in London for a speedy turnaround. But production for most of them happens elsewhere, in countries where living costs are lower, and the workforce is cheaper. So there are only a few brands like us that do full production runs with them. We’re all in the high end side of the market. For us it was a clear decision though – we get to work with people that we know first-hand, who we visit every month and that we know make incredibly high-quality pieces. And while doing that, we get to help keep jobs in the city where we live and work.
There are so many reasons why we love to work with Rize Designs. We trust them, and we value their quality standards. They are rigorous, and they deliver in time. The factory is a lovely place to work and employees are well paid and treated fairly and respectfully. We love Burhan, the Boss (although he doesn’t like it when we call him Boss). Beyond all these reasons, we enjoy working with them because Rize Designs represents the legacy of the textile industry in London. The London that we love to live in and that we want to preserve, one that is diverse, welcoming and brings together knowledge and skills from all over the world.
THE T-SHIRT TEAM