Recently, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the book: Factories, a collaborative effort between British clothing brand Albam, and photographer John Spinks. The book showcases a selection of the factories throughout the UK that the brand uses to produce their garments. An introductory conversation with Albam Co-Founder James Shaw and photographer John, helps to give an insight into how the idea was developed from James initially taking photo’s to show customers how the products were made, to the fully-fledged book. Upon reading the interview, you gain an appreciation of the amount of work that went into the project, taking a total of two years to complete, the outcome is something that both the brand and the photographer are very pleased with.
The main point that I drew from the book is that although being a long forgotten industry in this country, there are still factories constructing clothing in Britain. The workforces are now much smaller than in the past, but they remain doing what they do best. You get a real sense regarding the state of the industry through the photographs. Money is evidently tight as excess fabric is used as a quick fix for broken chairs, shears and even to hang speakers. Machinery is old, but strong; some are heavily covered in dust and while un-manned give off the impression you are looking into an abandoned building.
The majority of factory workers have spent their lives honing the skills to make clothes, therefore on reflection; there aren’t many young faces within the pages - a point that is noted within the introduction. ‘Factory’ has become a dirty word and most young people would rather stack shelves in their local supermarket, whilst dreaming of X Factor fame than take the time to learn and ply a trade such as the one being documented. Most of the factories are now lonely, cold looking spaces, and with such a small workforce – they are ghosts of the bustling environments they once were.
Albam have been producing their garments locally since their inception in 2006, and although initially being told that you couldn’t make anything in England anymore, they continue to support the small workforces left in Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester and other British cities. The use of these factories has allowed them to keep their product quantities low, meaning that you can buy a garment from the brand knowing that you are unlikely to see many other people wearing it. With the rise in popularity of heritage products, brands have been tapping into their histories more often than not. People now care about where their clothes come from, what materials are being used, even what machines are being used to craft them. Whilst some brands with in-house factories have taken to releasing video tours of their facilities, this book is a more thorough extension of that.
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