Talking Manchester and Menswear | Private White V.C. | A Continuous Lean.

Talking Manchester and Menswear | Private White V.C.

Feb 13th, 2014 | Categories: Jake Gallagher, Made in England, Menswear | by Jake Gallagher

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For a brand that was only officially introduced in 2011, Private White V.C. packs a heritage that’s far beyond their years. The brand operates out of a factory that their namesake, Private Jack White worked at back in the early twentieth century, and it was this legacy that led White’s great grandson, James Eden to take over the factory a handful of years ago. This appreciation of the past continues on through in the brand’s designs. Nick Ashley the lead designer of Private White leans heavily on classic English shapes such as harringtons and moto-jackets. Not only does Ashley’s resume include the likes of Dunhill, Kenzo, and Tod’s, but his parents founded Laura Ashley, a company whose impact on the English textile industry cannot be overstated. We had a chance to speak with both James Eden and Nick Ashley about their brand’s history, the future of Private White V.C. and what it means to be a British brand in 2014.

ACL: Unlike many brands, with names that are pure fabrications, Private White was a real person that has a real impact on the shape of your brand. Could you give some background on Private Jack White the man?

James Eden: Private White was a local hero both on the battlefield and in business. He was quite a character who certainly made the most of his celebrity after the War. He loved his life, he loved his ladies and most of all he loved his family and factory.

ACL: White was one of the founding fathers of the Manchester Factory that you produce out of today, so at what point did you all step into the picture and found Private White V.C.?

JE: Even though my great grandfather, Private White, passed away in the late 1940s, my family has always had an emotional attachment to the factory. As a kid growing up, instead of having a paper route or working in a local shop for pocket money like many of my pals did, I would work on the shop floor or in the cutting room – cutting fabric, counting buttons, heaving rolls of cloth, basically doing exactly what I was told! Six years ago the factory was on the brink of going under and so I decided to take a leap of faith and left my job in Finance in the City of London to try and revitalize the Factory.

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ACL: While Manchester has a rich manufacturing history, there aren’t many brands that produce clothing in the city these days, what made you decide to keep all of your production in Manchester?

JE: Without our own factory we have nothing and so shifting our production overseas was never an option. Our skills, history, reputation and expertise lie solely with UK production, Manchester specifically. It’s all we have and all we know.

ACL: Private White is based out of that Manchester factory, so could you elaborate a bit on how that factory operates on a day to day basis?

JE: The factory is opened at 6:45am, by our warehouse manager Pat, who has worked here for over 30 years. By 7:30am the place is rocking, rolling & pumping to the sound of sewing machines and Hoffman presses. In terms of scale we are small but beautifully formed. We have no automated cutting machinery in the cutting room whilst we have no automated jigs or automatic pocket machines on the shop floor. All our buttons holes, pockets and panels are all made by hand. We have used the same techniques and largely the same machinery for the past 30 years.

ACL: You all have really planted the flag for “English heritage,” what does that term mean to you?

JE: Heritage can mean many things to many people, to us, as a Factory Brand or Maker’s Label it’s about community, family, tradition, craft, dedication, skill and passion over generations.

Nick Ashley: As far as menswear is concerned, the British invented most of it, the suit, the overcoat, the sports jacket, the button down, the polo the wingtip brogue, the chino, etc. Many styles have been adopted by the rest of the world but as Brits we can be quietly confident with our status.

The global woven cotton trade was also founded in Manchester with Lancashire mills doing the weaving. These mills still weave our wool and cotton, and we make it up. We are the very last factory to operate like this, we are the holy grail. A heritage as powerful as this needs to be treated with respect, it needs to be nurtured, fed and moved into the sun at certain times, I like to embrace heritage, but introduce any useful and relevant technology, I call this ” Techno-Retro.”

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ACL: Where do you see your collections headed?

NA: We don’t really do collections, or fashion. I prefer to think of our shop as a quartermasters store where people get kitted out in some really useful stuff. So far, we have been concentrating on getting the basics right, then pushing the quality of every component part. This is a constant quest that will never stop. When we started the direction that we took was guesswork, but now that we have customers they can help us shape the products that we make.

ACL: How does your background play into the style of the line?

NA: My background is based more on manufacturing than anything else. Both my mother (Laura Ashley) and myself have worked beside a factory as a means of supporting the manufacturing process. Ideas are cheap, it’s getting them made up that takes the time and effort. However, I have learnt quite a lot along the way, primarily about what not to do, I love knowing all the rules, then breaking them, I love leaving things out. “If in doubt, leave it out.” I strive to be effortless in design.

ACL: What sets British textiles apart?

NA: British textiles are uncompromising. They are built to last and designed to enable clothes to become entirely appropriate for the particular function that they have to perform whether practical or aesthetic . This in itself is beautiful. Attempting to move things along is a colossal challenge, but now that we have our own mills to work with the opportunity to experiment is much greater.

ACL: American audiences generally think primarily about “household names,” like Savile Row, or Harris Tweed, or Barbour when we consider English menswear, so tell us, what are we missing out on over here in the states?

NA: Savile Row continues to be fabulous, but it is only for tailoring, Harris Tweed is exquisite, but cannot be washed and is scratchy, Barbour I love, but it is a middle market product. Private White has addressed all these pitfalls, our clothes are all casual, we are developing cloth that is more user friendly, and if Barbour made a premium brand, that would be us. There is a tradition in Britain that when a man walks into a room, you should see the man, not his clothes, anything other than that is just too “try hard” this is what sets the Brits apart. The Americans see British style as being based on tailoring, but as previously mentioned, we actually wear a lot more casual clothes over here. America has made and continues to make some outstanding casual clothes, the difference with British casual clothes is that they are more multi functional, we have learned to do more with less, that means that the quality can be pushed up because it’s investment dressing.

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Comments: 15

15 Comments to “Talking Manchester and Menswear | Private White V.C.”

  1. Tom Hemphill
    on Feb 13th, 2014
    @ 1:25 PM

    Kudos to Private White. Impeccable clothes and thoughts.

  2. Dan
    on Feb 13th, 2014
    @ 2:09 PM

    Great interview!

    I bought one of their Twin Tracks in Apple Green 6 months ago in London and have been riding a wave of compliments ever since. Wasn’t cheap but then again nothing half decent is these days!

  3. Matthew Pike
    on Feb 13th, 2014
    @ 2:12 PM

    I’ve actually been to the factory, it’s in such an unassuming place, just over a bridge, in a very quite area of the city. It’s like stepping back in time and my first thought was that I was heading the wrong way. I live in Lancashire myself so it’s really not that far. They’ve done really well to get into a couple of dep stores and built the brand quickly is a short space of time. They’re London store is also very nice. I can’t say for the quality as I or anyone else I know can’t afford even a sleeve but I admire them for aiming high and creating a new market.

  4. Ray Hull
    on Feb 13th, 2014
    @ 3:27 PM

    “investment dressing” An interesting term. Considering the above ‘sleeve’ remark, how about putting some of the investment numbers in to give us an idea about their “market?”

  5. David Merle
    on Feb 14th, 2014
    @ 8:12 AM

    I cannot complement them enough of the quality of the Coat I bought. I’m proud to own a proper British Made Coat!

  6. Baker
    on Feb 14th, 2014
    @ 9:51 AM

    The annoying thing about this is how “working class” and “factory based” the dude makes himself and his company sound, whilst no one but the rich will ever wear a piece of his clothes. Cool.

  7. Kevin McQuaid
    on Feb 15th, 2014
    @ 4:21 AM

    It’s so wonderful to see attention drawn to a company that refused to move manufacture abroad, rather revitalized what was already in existence. The clothing industry needs so many more companies of this nature to counteract the irresponsibly/unethically cheap Primarks of the world

  8. Ryan Barrie
    on Feb 16th, 2014
    @ 5:08 PM

    Fantastic interview. Love how they know that without U.K. manufacturing, they have nothing, and that going overseas was never an option. If the article hadn’t said they’ve only been around for 3 years, I would have assumed they were an 80 year old brand.

  9. JohnP
    on Feb 17th, 2014
    @ 7:19 PM

    “These mills still weave our wool and cotton, and we make it up. We are the very last factory to operate like this, we are the holy grail. ”

    Well they would say that wouldn’t they ! Beaver of Bolton are a long established manufacturer not far from them producing shooting and country wear, all with fabrics produced locally in Lancashire and sold mainly in the UK and Japan. Just saying !

  10. Judas
    on Feb 19th, 2014
    @ 11:47 PM

    Baker, you are the first sense of sensibility I have read on this senseless blog in the last 5 years I have nonsensically read it. Yes, let’s condemn the sell-out bourgeoisie Americans that have moved all of our precious manufacturing over-seas so that the greater part of America can afford to wear clothing. Let all of you understand that your cause is flawed. If the laws of Economics made it efficient for the masses to pay more to buy US manufacturing, then the natural order of life would make it sensible and make it so, but sorry to say so it is not. Obviously, you agree not with the law of Adam Smith and Laissez-faire economics which built the greatest gift America has imparted on the world – Capitalism. The Free Market will decide where and at what price the consumer is best served….you little primadonna’s would all wish to dictate to the market by insisting that Made in America is best, yet only a precious few can afford to buy it. You are flawed, and you know it. Take up a more important cause. Let the people decide, not a simple minded set of pompous bourgeoisie little boys with no better cause, and no sense of reason.

  11. Judas
    on Feb 20th, 2014
    @ 12:01 AM

    As a follow up…..At the same time, your blog is great in many ways, I for one wish you would just temper your message. It would be amazing to see what you could expose to the world if you pulled your head out of your Made in America ass….

  12. Dennis
    on Feb 20th, 2014
    @ 8:47 AM

    I love Ashley’s designs some of their jackets deserve more acclaim. It’s great to see Manchester manufacturing getting a name for itself again. Frank Rostron shirtmakers on Princess Street is another most people probably don’t even know exists. Manufacturing is coming home!

  13. Mike L.
    on Feb 20th, 2014
    @ 12:39 PM

    I bought the Tweed Shooter Coat from Bench & Loom last year during a sale. As I was unfamiliar with the Private White brand I was a bit hesitant but now can recommend what I’ve got. Don’t know about the overall value of the complete product line though as the prices can sometime seem non-commensurate with the products. Still, if they’re all like my coat then they’re good quality.

  14. Luke
    on Feb 21st, 2014
    @ 10:52 AM

    I ought to just point out that despite what they say in the interview Barbour does in fact have a premium line Dept B. (formerly To Ki To) which is a great mix of modern styling, premium fabrics etc.

  15. Peter
    on Feb 22nd, 2014
    @ 6:04 PM

    Good brand, great story behind them but their stuff is far too expensive and, yes, Judas and Baker, you have a good point. I am all for locally produced clothing and manufacturing but when the ‘factory’, ‘working class’ men make clothes to price their own kind out you have to ask what they are striving for. Still, nicely designed stuff