The Mary Portas effect: Business booms at British knicker factory revived by Queen of Shops
09:47 GMT, 16 November 2012
It was dubbed 'the Great British knicker experiment' and aimed to revive the UK's textile industry, proving it is still possible to make affordable, quality underwear in this country.
But what happened after the cameras stopped rolling at the factory featured in the Channel 4 show Mary's Bottom Line The answer is… the work has gone on and led to a resounding success for the Mancunian company.
The colourful lace lingerie has been in such demand since going on sale earlier this year at stores including Boots, House of Fraser and online fashion retailers, an initial production run for 5,000 has led to orders for 45,000.
Mission accomplished: Business is booming at a Manchester factory thanks to Mary Portas
Now the factory where the 'kinky knickers' are handmade are considering extending their range to create bras, vests and possibly men's pants with Mary Portas support.
The Queen of Shops sought out the family firm of Headen
& Quarmby in Middleton last year to take part in her TV project. She wanted to prove it was possible to make fashionable and affordable clothing in Britain.
Revived: The company has had to double their workforce to cope with the demand for their handmade lacy knickers
& Quarmby were a family firm established 70 years ago who had to send production overseas in recent years to make ends meet. Only a tiny section of their huge factory on the outskirts of Manchester was being used with rows of neglected sewing machines under covers.
But all that has changed since the arrival of Mary Portas. Now the factory has a thriving production line with knickers being handmade using material from Nottingham-based lace-maker Jim Stacey.
Viewers of the documentary following the factory's progress met trainees hired to work the
machines, including Andrew, 20 from Rochdale, a young father
determined to provide for his fiance Sarah and baby son Bryan, and
single mum Georgina, 25, from Middleton, who left school with no GCSEs.
Apprentice scheme: Andrew from Rochdale was one of the original trainees
Eight trainees were taken on originally, paid for by TV production company Endemol for the first nine months. Five of these still remain at the factory and more have been taken on as the factory has had to double their workforce to meet demand.
Lynn Birbeck, 65, whose parents founded Headen
& Quarmby said it has been wonderful to see the factory returned to its former glory and boost employment in the surrounding area.
'To be taking on
young people as apprentices here, it’s what makes it so special, to see
them happy in what they’re doing and learning new skills,' she told the Manchester Evening News.
Myra Parnell, 57, who has trained the apprentices added: 'I think they're all amazing. I never thought I'd see it again in my lifetime in the factory.'
Kinky knickers: Portas with a pair of the popular pants made using lace from a Nottingham supplier
One of the apprentices, James Hardman from Middleton told the newspaper he loves his job and has been able to gain an NVQ through his employment.
'I've seen it go from chaos to
organised chaos,' he said of the factory's revival. 'It's mad how much it's changed, how we've
gone from struggling to make 25 knickers a day to getting 600 out.'
The knickers have been on sale for 10 in line with Mary's promise for them to be affordable but there are now plans for a price increase up to 15.
Price increase: The knickers originally went on sale for 10 but will soon cost 15
MD David Moore said the price hike was necessary because of their expansion.
He said: 'When we started this project, we originally costed the knickers at 14, but Mary wanted them to be accessible for everybody and was set on 10. Yes, it was possible to manufacture them and sell them at that price, but the problem is the success of the project, and, moving forward, we've had to employ more people to cope with demand.
'Mary also wants to move into other areas, which means we need to recruit new machinists.'
Mary's Bottom Line will return to Channel 4 next month.