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Made in Britain: 2014 via 1950

Last weekend we went to Best of Britannia (BOB), part pop-up department store, part celebration of independent brands designing and making things in Britain. On top of ideas for Christmas presents, it made us think a lot about ‘brand Britain’. Many companies at BOB were selling an idea and image of Britain as well as their wares.

The main atrium at Best of Britannia
The main atrium at Best of Britannia – your country needs you etc. etc.
A selection of the brand and products on sale.
Some of the brands hanging out at BOB.

A lot of products harked back to a ‘when Britannia ruled the waves’ past. Maybe it’s a hipster thing, but screen out the iPhones and you could’ve been in 1950.

Britannia rules footwear again?
Britannia rules footwear again?
Going back in time
Cycling back in time.
Children's clothes Michael Gove would approve of.
Children’s clothes that would get an A* from Michael Gove.

It’s going on outside BOB too, especially in beard-tastic menswear — from high-end shoes like Grenson to high-street edits like Topman General Store with a stop for a trim at somewhere like Murdock en route. Why it’s become ‘A Thing’, we’re not sure. A lot of the look is frozen at a point just before British industry went into decline. As if bringing some of that back will rewind things to the time of the Empire again (there were a lot of Union flags on show). Or maybe we’re over analysing it and we just want to hark back to a simpler time before ‘fast fashion’ and when clothes lasted longer than one season.

Almost all the brands at BOB were riffing on a certain kind of manufacturing too: ‘craft’ was mentioned a lot. Probably because they have to. The prices were very much not stuck in 1950.

Primark it ain't. These shoes cost £299. They're handmade from a single piece of leather.
Primark it ain’t. These shoes cost £299. They’re handmade from a single piece of leather.

We’ve all got so used to cheap sweatshop prices it’s hard to stomach the ‘real’ cost of things made in Britain, beautiful and handmade though they are. There were exceptions. Some of the children’s brands weren’t completely out of reach for most people, like Immink and When We Were Little . We were also interested to talk to someone from new casual brand Born British whose hoodies and t-shirts are priced close to Nike’s (Born British just make a smaller profit each time). But nearly everything else was very high-end. A reminder that the Made In Britain stamp has become luxury for a few.

One last footnote to all this was that while the event and brands were beautifully presented, the government’s Department for Trade and Investment ‘GREAT’ British campaign looked embarrassingly out of place.

The DTI's brand for Britain: time for a Great Rethink.
The DTI’s brand for Britain: time for a Great Rethink. They could do with a bit of craft themselves.