From education to employment

Keeping Britain’s bespoke clothing industry alive

A unique partnership between a college and a group of prominent tailors is aiming to keep alive Britain’s reputation for bespoke clothing.

Newham College in East Ham, London currently works with Savile Row shops and other clothing companies to train its fashion students for careers in the tailoring industry.

The partnership aims to give students an understanding of how the industry works through such methods as trips to the famous London street, master classes delivered by prospective employers, talks and events from industry experts and more advanced courses involve regular placements in tailoring companies.

The Bespoke Tailoring Programme was designed in consultation with prominent tailors including practical training in hand-sewing skills, making alterations, body measuring and creating patterns.

Head of fashion and tailoring at Newham College, Chris Hall, said the course has been a success since its creation in 2006. So far, over 300 students have completed the programme, with approximately 30 former students securing positions working on Savile Row.

He said: “They are being trained to a standard that is helping them secure employment in Savile Row which is a fantastic brand. Its fair to say that we have changed training prospects in Savile Row.”

Hall said the industry is completely different from eight to 10 years ago when there was a lack of prospective young employees. He said: “The companies were really frustrated. The average age was over 50 and people were getting older and no new youngsters were going in to the businesses.”

Philip Parker of Henry Poole & Co, a member of SRB and one of Newham College’s partners, said the scheme helps to keep alive traditional bespoke crafts. He said: “It gives Savile Row Bespoke a steady stream of students passing through and some of them are very good. It is working very well and we are very happy with the arrangement.”

However, Parker said the high-end London tailors were limited in how many students they could take on. He said: “The problem will always be the numbers game. We all have workshops in Savile Row but we cannot absorb too many as we don’t have copious space like we used to because its very expensive and the land lords squeeze the hell out of you.”

The course was set up to provide a boost to the future of the tailoring industry. Several prominent tailoring companies got together to form Savile Row Bespoke Ltd. (SRB) in 2004, which set out to protect the reputation of bespoke tailoring in London, maintain craft skills and develop suitable training provision.

The Sector Skills Council introduced Newham College to SRB in October 2005 and a training course was established.

The partnership now involves prominent London tailors Gieves & Hawkes, Anderson and Shepherd, Henry Poole & Co, H. Huntsman & Sons, Meyer and Mortimer and Dege and Skinner.

The programme was launched in January 2006 as a pre-apprentice course but has expanded over recent years to include more advanced levels and courses can last up to two-and-a-half years.

Hall said the course was mainly made up of students over the age of 19, many of whom had previously secured degrees, although there were several 16-18 year olds.

Lewis Dyson


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