Great British Baby Company: The story behind a Shoreham-based business
PUBLISHED: 15:54 23 November 2016 | UPDATED: 15:54 23 November 2016
Rachael Attwood’s Great British Baby Company, based in Shoreham, is a new company built on the pillars of heritage, quality materials and supporting British manufacturing.
As the descendant of Welsh woollen mill owners on one side and generations of tailors on the other, Rachael Attwood is something of a poster girl for the future of British children’s fashion.
She’s also an academic – formerly of the University of Sussex, now the University of Westminster – whose PhD was in modern British culture, particularly regarding the concept of childhood. So her new project – the Great British Baby Company launches with the Autumn/Winter 16 collection – is a neat parcel of her skills, knowledge and heritage.
But it was an incident in a London department store in 2014 that started pulling the threads together in her mind. “My daughter was a year old and I was looking for something special for her when I noticed a coat. I turned over the price tag and saw that it was very expensive – I think it was £1,400, something like that – and I wanted to know why.” Rachael found nothing on the label to justify the cost: the garment was made in the Far East and wasn’t pure wool.
That got her thinking: what if there was a brand that made things out of “what I call noble materials – pure cashmere or a really fine lambswool” – that provided value at the luxury end of the market. She was adamant that the company would support British manufacturing, sourcing all materials and labour here.
“From that point I worked backwards and did almost two years of extensive research into British manufacturing. I’m aware through my studies and my work as a lecturer what Britain used to be capable of but it was really quite a sharp learning curve understanding what was possible in this day and age. That’s really how the business started: from being disgusted at how much something cost to trying to find better value luxury and something that really represented Britain.”
Rachael grew up in Sussex (she and the business are based in Shoreham) and inherited some of her interest in design through her family. Not only was she the descendant of people in the textile industry, but her parents used to encourage her to go to Brighton Museum as a child and look at the historic costumes.
Through indefatigable research and contacting manufacturers – some of which weren’t interested in hearing from a “small fish” – she found helpful people in the textile production industry who were able to explain some of the technical issues. Now she has manufacturers all over Britain – much of the cloth used to make the coats is from Yorkshire, which has a proud tradition in the industry, while ties are made with silk woven in the Midlands. The company recently began selling fine Scottish knitwear, making the company truly British.
Rachael continues: “I suppose the Great British Baby Company has become kind of purist in that sense. It pulls my chain that there are lots of childrenswear companies that really promote the fact that they sell British styles but then they don’t back up that commitment to Britishness by actually manufacturing in Britain.
“I’ve seen first-hand through my mother’s family based in South Wales how much an industry – in the case of that example, the coal-mining industry – can give to a community and a society. I also know from the experience of the 1980s how much can be taken away from a community if an industry collapses. It just wouldn’t be fitting to have a British luxury brand that wasn’t made in Britain, supporting local communities and supporting homegrown skills.”
The first collection – available for AW16 – combines beautiful craftsmanship and jewel colours with nods to our design heritage. As well as the main line coats there is knitwear and a range of woven silk bow ties and pussy bows in block colours and college stripes. “We’re really playing heavily on what conjures up Britishness in people’s minds,” says Rachael. That approach has earned her fans in unlikely places: “I started this brand thinking that the British heritage message would appeal to British people, but actually we are having a lot of interest in the brand from the United States and also from the Asia Pacific area. [People in] South Korea in particular are very interested in our coats and accessories.
“I’m getting together contacts in Seoul at the moment and I intend to travel over there in the next year to talk to potential stockists.”
Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in the company of a toddler might flinch at the idea of putting them in dry clean-only clothes, but Rachael says that as heirloom pieces, designed to be passed through the generations, they are built to last. “They have certain properties because they are pure wool – it’s all pure lambswool, pure merino or pure cashmere. So they are naturally flame retardant, which obviously is a concern, they are all able to be wiped clean very easily, so things like biscuit mess can be removed. All the coats have silk linings so they need to be treated with care, but they’re not impractical coats by the same token.”
And Rachael says the coats have been designed so that parents can ensure their children can wear them for two or more years by buying a size up and turning up the cuffs to reveal the silk lining. “The way that they’ve been tailored – and tailored is the word – they will last longer than you might think.”
The Great British Baby Company; 01273 455845; www.greatbritishbabycompany.com