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Pedal power: Cambridge Satchel's UK manufacturing collaboration

A collaboration between the Cambridge Satchel Company and Brompton bikes flies the flag for UK manufacturing.

At a festival in Shanghai in 2015, Cambridge Satchel Company founder Julie Deane offered an under-the-weather Will Butler-Adams a rhubarb and custard sweet.

“When you’re far from home, sometimes a boiled sweet is a comfort,” she says, recounting the day she met the chief executive of folding bicycle manufacturer Brompton.

Once they established who each other was, the two resolved to work together. The result is three satchels for spring 17, as well as a special edition bike in Cambridge Satchel’s signature oxblood. Available in lagoon blue, Turkish green and oxblood, and retailing at £195, the satchels are designed to sit comfortably on the front of all Brompton bikes. The bike costs £1,400 and comes with the bag.

Brompton cambridge satchel co ab 156

Brompton cambridge satchel co ab 156

 

Both the satchels and the bike launch this month. The bags will be available online and in the Cambridge Satchel Company stores in Cambridge and London’s Covent Garden, while the bike will be sold exclusively through Brompton’s dedicated Brompton Junction stores.

The collaboration is a natural fit. Not only is a bicycle part of the Cambridge Satchel Company’s logo, but both businesses share a passion for British enterprise and manufacturing in the UK. The Cambridge Satchel Company opened its own factory in Leicester in 2011, where it now employs 50 people and produces roughly 600 bags every day.

Deane is as ebullient about UK manufacturing as ever: “Setting up my own factory was one of the hardest but most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was never part of the plan, and I didn’t know anything about manufacturing at the start, but it means you don’t have to fight to be the number one priority [in a factory] with other brands.”

The Leicester factory is buzzing with life when Drapers visits, as staff turn hides of brightly dyed leather into the brand’s sturdy but stylish satchels. 

UK manufacturing has enjoyed mixed fortunes over the past 12 months. The rising cost of overseas production, coupled with a need for faster and more flexible supply chains, has led some retailers to bring more of their production back to these shores. However, allegations of poor working conditions and low pay in some British factories have cast a shadow over the industry.

Yet Butler-Adams, who joined Brompton as a project manager in 2002, is optimistic: “The drop in the value of sterling will be good for British exports, whatever else it does to the economy,” he argues. “There are opportunities for British manufacturing and the more it happens, the more the industry becomes self-fulfilling.”

Deane agrees with Butler-Adams, but argues that education needs to be a continued focus if UK manufacturing is to prosper: “Some people might not want to go to university, but are simply genius at making things, and that should be a real source of pride and celebration.”

She adds that the government needs to reform the business rates system urgently: “The more you invest in your factory, the more you’re penalised through taxes. Manufacturing is creating jobs and is a good use of taxpayers’ money. I know we’re saving for Brexit, but surely part of Brexit should be showing how good British businesses are.”

Exporting is also an area of focus, and Deane urges businesses producing in the UK to look to China in particular for opportunities: “As we continue to look for ways to genuinely help business in this country, exports are key. Exporting made this country and it’s a big win.”

Despite the challenges ahead, British businesses such as Brompton and the Cambridge Satchel Company show that it is possible to continue innovating. But their warning should be heeded: more must be done to support UK manufacturing, or this tentative resurgence could turn into a missed opportunity.

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