Manchester has always been a fundamental cotton supplier and has always had fantastic mills and people to create garments for us, but the price of that has gone up, with less people having the know how and the cost being so low in other manufacturing cities. So we find ourselves at a strange cross roads with fashion these days. We have fast fashion that is cheap and keeps us looking ‘fresh’ and is really affordable and accessible, but it’s unethical, horrible for the environment and not sustainable in our current world. Then we have slow fashion, which for some is financially inaccessible, but tries to take full responsibility for everything it does and every step it takes in creating its products. The choice is real hard sometimes, but obvious.
Sophie Benson continues to show me the companies doing the worst for the community, consumer and environment and a well know brand from Manchester really opened our eyes. The programme ‘Inside Misguided’ really showed me how bad it was. I always thought it was huge corporate brands that abused their position and the power they were given. But this relatively small “girlboss” group of people from Manchester have shown me that these problems are much closer to home. The show truly outlines the clear theft and abuse that they wreak every single day, and they say that this brand is aimed at teenage girls?
So with that in mind I wanted to find people in Manchester who have the exact opposite ethos to how they create their products. People who are proud to say that they have made their clothing with their bare hands and they were made in this city! The more I looked the more I found! We have big companies like Uskees who make life long lasting workwear for the every day right here in the city. Then you have Marson Studio who up cycle unisex designer streetwear with their own bleaching and tie dying ways. We also have Bukky Baldwin, who have just launched their first fashion range in some amazing silhouettes, made from recycled PET. And newest hat maker on the block LID, making great eco friendly bucket hats! However, we wanted to look at the people who are truly in the underground and are my personal favourites, so here we go!
Niamh Carr came straight out of Fashion University and straight into the idea to begin working on her own fashion brand. In her own words “We are a slow, unisex brand that make comfy, hard-wearing clothing to go live your life in.” Now that sounds like all I need… She caught her big break by dressing the best in Manchester like Joe from Joe & CO, Steve from Jersey Street Social Club in Ancoats, then the staff at the Organic Textile Company, 23 Oz Indigo and Nola. Then, getting found by the Sustainable Fashion Party early this year catapulted her into the limelight and to a lot of customers. NEMCEE’s style has always been rooted in strong, stable workwear and its foundations in the use of ethical fabrics and ethical manufacturing techniques and you can see that in the simple fact that everything they make is 1 of 1. Using amazing fabrics like pink striped deadstock denim found in Blackburn factories, or simply using old fabrics that they dye in the bath, everything is done by Niamh either at home or in the studio. Niamh spent lockdown busy at work on the ‘DO GOOD’ project, where she hand made scrubs for health care workers and only asked the customer to cover the cost of the fabric and they truly look amazing. The simple fact that they do it themselves with love and care is what really gets me interested in talking to them about what the future of the brand looks like and what we need to know about them. So we had a chat!
How important do you think it is to to make androgynous clothing that is available to all people?
I think it’s something that shouldn’t be an important point of difference or interest because it should be normal. Gendering clothing makes no sense unless we’re talking about things that tightly hug the body in which case different body’s need extra space for extra bits- but nower days that still can’t really count as ‘gendering’ because people with whatever body parts are identifying as whatever they feel most comfortable and that’s great. So making clothing that’s just -clothes for any body’s- is where I think more of the fashion world will start heading.
Why make workwear? Has the industrious landscape of Manchester influenced you to do that? Or are you like me and just love it!
Yeah I think I do just love that style! Kind of linking to your first question I think from always dressing ‘androgynous-ly’ since being a kid and never being particularly skinny has meant comfy oversized shapes suited me best (in my opinion- not my nans) and just fitted in with my lifestyle and what I want my clothing to do for me. Which has massively influenced NEMCEE, I’m not into clothing that hinders or gets in the way or isn’t comfortable so clothing that’s made for physical working in is a perfect influence to look to. Manchester is an amazing city to live in and the buildings, culture and history definitely inspire me- I hope we hold onto what makes Manchester great and not just become another city of silver high rises and the mad work rush.
Have you got any heart warming tales from your amazing ‘DO GOOD PROJECT’?
Oh god deep lockdown sewing nice scrubs feels like years ago now! 2020 is a black hole of time passing!!!
I had quite a few messages from people who were buying do good items who’s family past/present were health care workers and they were so lovely about the whole thing. Receiving pictures and messages from people who received the scrubs was great and usually had me welling up too, it wasn’t like they made a huge difference but doing the whole thing gave me purpose and really helped mentally.
Where do you source your materials from? How do you choose? Do you have any particular favourites? If so, why?
I use UK suppliers and so far with fabrics everything has been organic or BCI cotton grown/ woven in India or dead stock cloth from a factory in Blackburn. Buttons are made from nuts and turned here in the UK. I use a heavyweight German polyester thread because the seam strength is a lot better than cotton thread- I’m currently looking into more sustainable alternatives but I don’t want NEMCEE garments to be any less hardwearing- things like this are always difficult and a toss up to decide what’s better in the long run. Deciding what’s best for the values I want NEMCEE to encompass is how I choose things- I also usually find fabrics first with a basic idea then design, rather than the other way round. Just means I don’t end up compromising for lesser fabrics to stick with a design I like!
Can you tell us about 3 people/groups or businesses doing great things in Manchester right now that we should know about!
Of course NOLA an independent shop in Northern Quarter where I also work- we’re currently developing a new exciting made in Manchester range of clothing. Theres so many independent shops that need our support right now. Buy your coffee and socks locally- at the very least.
Matthew Halsall is a cool composer, producer, trumpeter, DJ based in Manchester who I’ve got into recently after finding his album inspired by local parks.
And lastly the Manchester Meteor an independent news co-op that covers all kinds of things and is trying to hold the council/ government to account for their many shortcomings and out right di*k moves in this city.
Shop the NEMCEE collection on their website nemcee.com and check out their instagram page @_nemcee to have a look at their previous work and gasp like i did! But the real party is in their digital cookbook you can get right here, https://issuu.com/niamhmcarr/docs/nemcee_lookbook
The Long Shot
The Long Shot Exp is a wonderful hat producer based in Manchester, ran by the founder, designer, producer and everything else, Mike. Similarly to Good Measure he just wanted to make one perfect product, and for him it was the bucket hat, an item with such a synonymous history within the city. He hand makes all the hats in his home studio using products from around the country, made by specialists from Rochdale to Dundee. I came across the brand at the Manchester Craft and Flea fair in Manchester Cathedral and just the wide range of shapes, sizes and materials got me very excited.
But this isn’t all that Mike does. He also collaborates with artists to create a variety of graphic t-shirts, he has made great little sling bags and a some tote bags. Mike has had a great relationship with previous interviewees Good Measure, he has been using their offcuts to make his main summer hat collection using the French Terry fabric we already talked about. So it’s great to see that they are taking even more responsibility for their environmental footprint.
With a keen interest on skateboarding and hip-hop, we knew that this was a fella that we really wanted to have a quick chat with and get a little more information on and here it is.
What are your opinions on fast fashion? And how has that guided you instead towards creating a bespoke individual product?
I try not to be too quick to judge those who purchase fast fashion. Despite what the algorithms try to tell us, buying “sustainable” clothing isn’t just a moral decision made by the enlightened but an economic decision that takes the choice away from many. I believe that the responsibility lies with the retailers to change their practices and bring an honest price to products.
The circumstances and existence of fast fashion had no bearing on my starting The Long Shot Exp. or on the products I produce. I began the Long Shot after leaving a job to become a full time parent to our two children, creating things was an enjoyable and necessary outlet for me. The business side of the Long Shot grew from this basis and essentially I make things that I would like myself.
What’s your relationship with Good Measure, and why do you keep working with them?
I had known one of the founders of Good Measure through mutual friends for a few years. On occasion I had considered getting in touch with them to discuss the possibility of using any off-cuts they might be left with. I never followed through with this idea however, it was Carl and Fred from GM who reached out to me to see if the off-cuts could be used. Good Measure commission and source all materials in the manufacture of their garments from within the UK, they are invested at every level and when the cutters hand them boxes of off-cuts they didn’t want to be sending these pieces to landfill. This was fortunate for me and together we developed a unique product that utilises the majority of their waste.
Why is it so crucial to now have an independent business and make your own products as close to home as possible?
As I mentioned above, I began to create as on outlet to balance spending my days with a baby and a toddler. I know that making something, whatever it may be, is beneficial to my mental health and keeps me feeling positive.
I make all Long Shot products from my home workshop and source all fabrics from UK producers for a number of reasons. My brand is based on the products being “meticulously designed and crafted”, as such I use materials from companies that have a history and track record for producing high quality and innovative items. Fortunately there are a number of such companies still operating in the UK, I primarily use fabrics from Brisbane Moss in Todmorden, British Millerain in Rochdale and Halley Stevensons in Dundee. I am a small producer and on an economic level working with UK producers allows me to keep shipping costs low and purchase smaller amounts than an international producer would allow. This way of sourcing and working has obvious social and environmental benefits which are of course a welcome bonus.
There are lots of great hats out there, worn by great celebrities, like Serpico and Kurosawa. But do you have a favourite image that represents this in its purest way?
For me, the best thing is when you see somebody in the street really rocking their look, in the midst of a crowd someone can stand out by just the slightest cock of a hat.
To choose some more notable faces, Gil Scott-Heron always exuded pure nonchalant style. Kevin Rowlands of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Paul Bradshaw of Straight No Chaser magazine are another two that always give good hat!
Can you name you name 3 people/brands/businesses doing cool things in and around Manchester right now?
Good Measure of course, attention to detail and a drive to make the best product possible. The With Love Project are doing interesting things with a community approach. Bags of Flavor, quality second hand clothing picked by Rich who has encyclopaedic knowledge of Mancunian street style.
Over the autumn months Mike has put out some incredible heavy chord hats in perfect rusty colours, so check them out if you need your fix right away. Visit the website shop.thelongshotexp.uk or have a window shop on their instagram @thelongshotexp.
Good Measure are Carl and Fred from Manchester who simply wanted to create the ultimate sweatshirt. Collating all the best features, from a good ribbing, a good raglan sleeve and the perfect colours. The most important thing was to get it made in the UK by people who love what they do and can prosper from their work and my goodness, they did it! Along came the Shirley Crabtree. It really is pretty perfect, made from heavyweight 480g loop back jersey with a classic US sportswear inspired reverse weave and always to a very limited run. From that they had their business and have worked up and up from there. They have made T-shirts, Hoodies all in a variety of colours. After making the original basis then then took a look back on themselves and pondered on how they could work better and more sustainable and this is where we introduce the ‘French Terry’ fabric, but we will look more closely at that later. Lockdown really got these guys thinking out of the box and they made the Acid Test series, a super tiny of hand tie dyed pieces that really got me interested in the brand because it was so out there compared to what they had done before. So we can be sure that they have more crazy collections to come over the coming years. We had a chat with them about Shirley Crabtree and about French Terry and their opinions on fast fashion.
Who is Good Measure?
Good Measure is me, Carl and friend/business partner Fred, initially our other pal John was involved and he was pretty integral to the early beginnings when we spent days and days chasing factories and mills but he’s moved onto pastures new making fancy bespoke lamps for pop stars.
Tell us about your ‘Think about the future’ fabric French Terry!
Part of our initial plan was to show that we could make premium quality sweatshirts in the UK using ethical factories where workers are paid fairly and work in a safe environment. Fabric handle has always been important, and initially all our garments were 100% cotton, when exploring eco fabrics we didn’t want to compromise on this, luckily our knitter managed to develop the 330 gsm French Terry that we currently have in the line, the handle still feels dry like a raw cotton but is made of recycled yarn and PET bottles.
You’ve said you’re not eco warriors, but I can see you do your part. Is this why you make such small runs of your clothing?
More a question of economics to be honest. We don't want global domination, we’re happy making small runs that our factory can handle and grow organically, we’re probably not the best at pushing the brand as much as maybe we ’should’ but I guess we’’re happy with that and the small runs suit the requirements of the business.
What are your opinions on fast fashion?
Shocking but unfortunately inevitable in todays society. Hopefully the tide is turning and these bigger companies will be held accountable for their actions in the future.
The Shirley Crabtree is your holy grail but what’s the influence behind it and where did you end up making it?
The Shirley Crabtree (aka Big Daddy) was a culmination of trying to develop what we considered the perfect sweatshirt. A combination of all the best bits from the various sweatshirts that we had owned over the years, we weren’t redesigning the wheel, just improving. Unfortunately our initial brief of getting them made in Manchester just wasn’t a realistic proposition, plenty of factories dealing in wovens, jackets etc but not jersey, so we had to take our production to the East Midlands. One day it would be nice to go full reverse and work with a factory that could do this for us in Manchester. Post Covid we’ve Brexit to look forward to right?! UK manufacturing will rise from the ashes and we’ll be living in a new era of UK made products and Britain will become great again! Thats correct isn't it?
When can we see more experimentation from you, like the Acid Test series?
Covid put a handbrake on a lot of planned projects over the Summer so we went back to grass roots, experimenting with different hand dyes and tie dyes, really short runs and just having a bit of fun with existing product, Plans are afoot for the next few months, working with an illustrator friend on some graphics we’ve also some early 90’s surf inspired stripe tees on the way (great timing eh?), so we’re keeping things ticking over. The worlds a very uncertain place at the moment so we’re going even more reactionary with the way we work. Small projects, super limited runs and trying to keep things as interesting and exciting as possible.
Visit their website www.goodmeasure.co.uk to check out their online shop and have a read through Carl’s great blog. Then check out their instagram @goodmeasure to have a look at all the stuff they have done in the past.