We’ve all heard it before, the huffing and puffing from those Daily Mail reading-types that still hanker for Britain’s long-lost industrial past: ‘we don’t make anything any more’.
Au contraire. In fact, Britain’s never made more stuff. Manufacturing in the UK now employees 2.6million people and contributes 44 per cent of the country’s GVA. In the same breath, our appreciation of artisanship has skyrocketed, and the made in Britain menswear scene has never looked so good. Moreover, the capital’s leading the way in British-made clothing, and the past few years has seen plenty of new workshops pop up making handsome kit.
Here are five East End workshops to know about (if you don’t already), all of which are happy to receive visits from interested parties. If you like to know where your clothes come from, and to connect with people who care about what they make, these are the brands for you.
1. Baudoin & Lange
This luxury slipper-maker is only just over a year old, but its already made significant waves on the artisanal menswear scene. B&L was founded by shoemaker Alain Baudoin and entrepreneur Bo Van Langeveld, who both felt there wasn’t a comfortable shoe out there to suit the needs professionals who want to look smart in the office, without spending hours on end in stiff leather dress shoes. The result is the Sagan, a frankly gorgeous suede slipper. It’s totally unstructured, but robust enough to wear out and about, whether you’re commuting to work or mooching about town of a weekend.
Moreover, B&L has just taken up residence in a new workshop-cum-showroom off Columbia Road. It’s going to be open in the next month or so (we’ll let you know when), and it’s the perfect place for customers to come in for a coffee, watch the company’s shoes being hand-finished, and try on pairs to their heart’s content.
Baudoin & Lange’s signature piece?
The brand makes the Sagan in suede or nappa leather, plus variants with tassels or strings, and special orders in exotic skins. Even so, for our money, you won’t got wrong with the classic Sagan in dark brown suede. It’s as practical as can be, easily dressed up or down, and the suede’s baby-bottom soft.
2. Charlie Borrow
Just up the street from Baudoin & Lange is Charlie Borrow. Simply put, Charlie’s an independent craftsman who lives to make great leather goods. His work matches a utilitarian aesthetic with intelligently sourced materials and plenty of painstaking handwork.
He opened up shop in 2013, with the simple aim of creating leather goods and luggage inspired by the ‘sometimes forgotten’ attitudes of traditional British manufacturing, ‘where there was an expectation for items to last forever’. Whether his English-woven 24oz dry-proofed canvas, oak bark tanned leather or his sand-cast brass hardware that’s been made in Walsall since 1832, Borrow’s bags are tough as old boots, but considerably more stylish.
Charlie’s signature piece?
Charlie’s Pilot’s Bag has cult status among aficionados, and is the bag to opt for if you’re after a serious piece of kit. He makes them in deadstock military ripstop, cotton or flax canvas, in a range of earthy colours. Visit his workshop to take a look.
118 Columbia Road, E2 7RG, charlieborrow.com
3. Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
We’ve sung the praises of this spiritual home for British denim before, but it warrants mention here because the team from Blackhorse Lane are only too pleased to receive visitors to the workshop.
Blackhorse Lane was founded in 2016 with the sole aim of hand making the best ethical jeans on the planet, using exclusive selvedge denim, archive-inspired patterns and responsibly sourced hardware. Today, the company is also a lynchpin of the local community in Walthamstow, offering work to local craftspeople, and shared ownership to full-time employees.
Blackhorse Lane’s signature piece?
It has to be the NW1 Heritage Relaxed, which as the name suggests is a vintage-inspired jean with gently tapered wide legs and a medium-high rise, made in 14oz indigo selvedge denim. Inspired by the rock ’n’ roll rebels of the 1950s, it’s just the thing to lend your casualwear a retro edge – it’ll last you for donkey’s years, too.
114 Blackhorse Lane, E17 6AA, £185, blackhorselane.com
Today, Drake’s is one of British menswear’s foremost haberdashers, but the brand’s not forgotten its roots. It was born in 1977, as a tie maker that produced handmade ties anonymously for other brands. Its workshops were always East End based, and its current tie making factory on Haberdasher Street is an ode to the product that made the company’s name.
All Drakes’ ties are hand cut to the house’s patterns from the finest Italian-woven silk, wool and cashmere, delicately lined, slip-stitched (the slip-stitch is a technique that’s particular to tie-making, whereby one single thread brings the tie together so it can stretch and give along its entire length), pressed and obsessively quality checked before leaving the factory, all in small batches.
The best bit? There’s a factory store attached to the workshop, too (but don’t tell Drake’s I told you…)
Drake’s signature piece?
There’s no need to overcomplicate this. Pick a tie you love and buy it. If you’re not sure where to start, this season’s summery surfer and sailor prints are chic, and its geometric art deco prints are great for a splash of colour.
3 Haberdasher Street, N1 6ED. Ties from £125, drakes.com
5. SEH Kelly
Everything about SEH Kelly – the brand, the clothes, the workshop – feels reassuringly solid. Founded in 2009 by Sarah Kelly and Paul Vincent, the pair set out to create casual clothes that draw upon ‘components from the best makers around the British Isles’, inspired by the pair’s time spent working on Savile Row.
This philosophy translates beautifully into the company’s quirky workwear, outerwear, shirts and trousers. ‘There are some superb outerwear manufacturers in London, as well as other small makers – and we can work with them hand in glove on a daily basis – we’re constantly learning from them,’ says Kelly. Whether a relaxed raincoat in heavy rainproof drill or some hefty corduroy trousers, head to SEH Kelly when you’re looking for something that’s built to last.
On that note, if you’d like to try anything on, the brand’s Boundary Street workshop is open on the weekends ‘for the pursuing and trying on of garments.’ Lovely stuff.
SEH Kelly’s signature piece?
The brand experiments season by season, but right now, its new donkey jacket (pictured) is the piece to go for. Vincent says: ‘It sums up our approach to design, with a few clean lines and intersections. It’s also the result of a few substantial refinements we’ve made over the years in terms of details, fit and introducing ideas from other parts of the collection.’
1 Cleeve Workshops, Boundary Street, E2 7JD, £380, sehkelly.com