Make it British – Kate Hills and her mission to promote home-grown talent

Kate Hills has a mission. Just like Sarah Haran, she believes in high-quality fashion manufactured in the UK. Frustrated by the closure of so many excellent home-grown factories, she launched Make it British. We spoke to Kate about the importance of investing in quality clothing, lessons learned from fashion disasters and her essentials for a working wardrobe.   

How did your career develop from your first job in design, to where you are today with Make It British?

I left fashion college in the early 1990s when there was a recession on, so it was pretty difficult to get a job. Back then everyone that studied fashion learnt how to cut patterns and put a garment together, so I started making clothes and selling them on Camden Market to help pay the rent. They sold really well, which gave me the confidence to open a shop in Portobello and turn the project into a proper clothing brand. As the business grew I set up a small factory and employed several machinists to help make the clothes. 

We had a sales agent who was helping us wholesale the brand, and they ran off with all of the money… so I had to close the business down and look for a job. I then found myself working in several design and buying roles, including at Burberry and Marks and Spencer. At both of these companies I saw production moving overseas and UK factories closing down. I remember sitting in meetings when we told UK suppliers that we weren’t going to buy their product anymore because we could source it much cheaper from the Far East, and it was heartbreaking. 

I knew that if someone didn’t do something to help save what was left of the UK manufacturing industry then soon there would be nothing left. So, I set up Make it British to help promote UK manufacturers and brands that make in the UK.

What can we do to help, as consumers?

By buying authentic British goods, manufactured by skilled craftsman using the finest materials, you are helping to keep these skills alive in the UK. If we don’t support the makers in Britain that still have these precious skills, we will lose them forever. I’m not saying that everything you own should be made in Britain, but I think if we can make it here we should.

When do you think you first became aware of ‘fashion’ – can you link it to a particular moment?

I can remember when I first became interested in making clothes, which to me is more important than fashion. I was influenced by a school friend’s mum when I was about 11. When I went around to their house they were both always sewing. I loved the idea of being able to make your own clothes and she taught me how to sew. I then pestered my dad for a sewing machine for years. I eventually got one for my sixteenth birthday and I’ve still got it! 

Are there any other fashion moments that you look back on now through your fingers in horror?

Oh gosh, there were many dodgy ones in the eighties! A particularly bad period was when I dressed up like Adam Ant in faux leather knickerbockers. There were quite a few home-made clothing horrors whilst I was finding my feet with the sewing machine.

Are there 3 key items our reader should look to adding to their wardrobe – that are British made and good quality enough to last?

I think the three British-made items that are worth investing in are a great piece of knitwear, a really classic coat, and a pair of Northampton-made brogues.

People often say that buying something made in the UK is too expensive, but if you pick quality items they really do last. I’ve got John Smedley knitwear in my wardrobe that I bought with my first pay cheque when I worked at Marks and Spencer in 1997, and it is still going strong. 

You should never buy cheap shoes, it’s bad for your feet and your wallet. There are a number of excellent footwear manufacturers in the UK where you can get brilliantly crafted shoes that will last you for years.

What does your work wardrobe look like?

I work from home most of the time, so it’s pretty casual. It usually includes a piece of British-made knitwear and a pair of trainers.  Recently I found the perfect trainers from Goral who make in Sheffield. They’re so good I couldn’t choose which colour, so I had to buy two pairs.

Whose wardrobe are you most jealous of right now?

My husband’s! He’s got loads more British-made clothes than me because it’s so much easier to buy everything head to toe Made in Britain if you’re a man. He wears jeans made at Community Clothing and Blackhorse Lane, T-shirts from Sunspel, shoes from Cheaney and Trickers, and hats from Lock & Co, and Christys. Not to mention all of the ties, silk squares and cravats.

What is your approach to accessories and accessorising? Is it the more the merrier or are you monogamous to one bag or piece of jewellery?

Having been an accessory designer for a decade I’m pretty picky about accessories. When I find a handbag I love I will use it for years, which is why it’s so important that it goes with everything. So, I go for classic styles in really good quality leather like the Dahlia Tote. I love the fact that it is so versatile and the fact that it is also now available with a gold trim was the perfect reason to get a second one!

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