YARMOUTH OILSKINS

YARMOUTH OILSKINS

REIGNITING A HERITAGE BRAND

Sophie Miller talks to Emma Varsanyi 

Sophie, you’ve worked at some very big brands, what brought you to Yarmouth Oilskins?

I grew up in the countryside just North of Great Yarmouth and having travelled the world designing for various brands I settled back in Norfolk to raise my family. The town is very important to me; my family history is centred here. My Dad was a senior lecturer at the Art College and was very involved in the creative scene in the town, which I grew up around. Yarmouth still has a very active arts and creative culture, which Yarmouth Oilskins is proud to be connected to.

When I first came across the factory in 2017, the ‘Yarmouth Oilskins’ collection as it stands today didn’t exist, although the name had been used since 1898. The factory was making for other brands, and basic workwear pieces for trades. I suggested the concept of resurrecting the Oilskins brand, and fortunately the owners decided to back the concept. I realise that I am incredibly fortunate to be involved with one of the very few remaining British manufacturers and that it is in my hometown.

 

 

Can you tell us about how Yarmouth Oilskins has modernised whilst keeping important traditional aspects alive?

While respecting our heritage as a workwear manufacturer, it is very important to us to be keenly looking to the future. We have taken our time to develop new skills and to broaden the capabilities of the factory. It’s important for us to secure the future of the factory and guarantee that our workforce is employed for many decades to come. We are constantly looking to grow our team, and looking to create a training facility to pass on the skills to a newer generation. By building a sustainable, efficient business we hope that our prospects are looking positive.

Using sustainable natural fibres and trying to have a minimal impact on the planet is very important to us. We source fabric and trims as close to home as feasible, and only make garments that we are confident we can sell, reducing garment waste to landfill. We encourage keeping our garments for a very long time, it’s about much more than one season’s wear. Our pieces are designed to last decades, not seasons. It was a long-held ambition to re-learn the skills we once had and to re-introduce sewing with waxed fabrics. Working with Dry waxed fabrics from Halley Stevensons, we launched our Dry Wax Hooded Smock in 2020. We have since introduced sewing with more weights of waxed fabrics on increasingly complicated styles such as our NZ Jacket. We have introduced quilting made from all natural fibres, using wool for wadding, and cotton top fabric. It didn’t seem right to line our garments with polyester wadding and synthetic lining fabric. Our Reversible gilet, and Explorer smock are all wadded with wool fibres.

We encourage our workwear pieces to be worn for all occasions, not just as traditional workwear. Our relaxed tailoring range, all made from cotton, is unlined and machine washable, offering a much more sustainable option for smarter occasions as a pair, individually they are ideal wardrobe staples that can be worn all year round. Gone are the days of having a synthetic high street suit gathering dust in the back of the wardrobe - our relaxed tailoring is a truly sustainable wardrobe addition.

 

 

Why is it important for us to focus more on where the products we own are made and who by?

There are some really murky aspects of the Fashion Industry that many consumers have, in the past, chosen to ignore in favour of paying less at the till. Thankfully there’s now a growing trend to question ‘who made my clothes?’ and to understand more about their provenance. Organisations like Fashion Revolution, a ‘Global movement for people and planet over profit’ are gaining traction and raising awareness. It seems that rock bottom prices can only be achieved if part of the supply chain is being exploited. Customers are calling for greater transparency and major brands are now responding to the call for greater accountability.

We are very proud of our workforce, and value their skills. We make sure that they are paid a living wage and rewarded for their craft. We extend this transparency to the fabric and trims we buy and the origin of the cloth, wherever possible sourcing as close to home. It’s important to us to keep the tradition of clothing manufacture alive in our town. By choosing to manufacture in Great Yarmouth we are bringing jobs and opportunities to the area and putting back into the economy of the town.

 

Tell us a little about the team, their expertise, and their hopes for the future.

We are very lucky to have a loyal team of craftspeople. Sharon is our factory manager and celebrated 30 years with the company in January. She started working as a machinist making aprons and has since done pretty much most jobs in the factory since, this means she has a great understanding of all aspects of manufacture. Sue who works in the cutting room has worked for the business for 40 years – that sort of experience is invaluable. We are also very keen to bring new talent on board and to grow the team. Xander recently joined us in the cutting room having completed a Fashion Design degree. He works on new product sampling, patterns, and lay planning, and we are keen that he learns more aspects of the business. For the business to grow we need to be recruiting more team members. We have an ambition to set up a training program which will pass on the skills learned over decades to a new generation.

 

What do you think we can do more of together as consumers and makers to rebuild “Made in the UK”?

I think it’s important to question the origin of the clothes we buy, and to challenge the selling price. Made in the UK pieces generally cost more because they have been made in a country with a National Minimum Wage, and the people who made them have been paid fairly for their skills. Yarmouth Oilskins pieces are made to last much longer than one season, and to get better the more they are worn and washed, meaning that initial investment is spread out over many years, ‘Buy once, Buy well ‘.

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