Blackfriar: Burberry must make good on its Yorkshire commitment

Burberry  Naomi Campbell in the Burberry Festive Campaign shot by Mario Testino
Burberry Naomi Campbell in the Burberry Festive Campaign shot by Mario Testino
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While it is heartening to hear that Burberry remains “fully committed” to opening its state-of-the-art manufacturing and weaving facility in Leeds, there are still a number of questions over the site.

At the moment the company is in a management limbo. New boss Marco Gobbetti will join the luxury retailer next Friday, but won’t take over the role from current chief executive, Halifax-born Christopher Bailey, until July. Mr Bailey will continue as chief creative officer and CEO until July 4 and the following day he will take up the new role of president and chief creative officer.

There is no doubt that Yorkshire manufacturing is close to Mr Bailey’s heart​.

When the site was announced he said: ​“This plot of land means we can remain loyal to our Yorkshire heritage and textile industry in the heart of England and keeps a British icon on British soil.

“British manufacturing is a skill that we should be immensely proud of and build on.​“​

But will it be so important to ​Italian-born ​Mr Gobbetti, who has a proven track record for growing brands such as Givenchy, Moschino and Bottega Veneta?

Burberry remains frustratingly vague about when the site will actually open.

Remember this follows a gaffe by the group’s chairman, ​John Peace, ​who was asked last July what projects might be looked at post Brexit and he said all projects will be looked at and gave the example of the Leeds facility. This led to rumours that it might not open, which were swiftly stamped on by Burberry.

​Burberry had a number of choices when deciding where to site its new multi million pound manufacturing facility.

N​ow that the UK is leaving the single market, could Burberry decide that trade restrictions might make an overseas operation more viable?

​​At a time when its Chinese customers make up​ such a large chunk of its sales, a factory sited in Asia would have been welcomed by the world’s second biggest economy.

Equally Continental sales are vital to the firm’s prosperity so a factory in Europe would have made sense, especially ​following the news that we are to leave the single market.

Siting its new factory in either Asia or Europe would have cost a fraction of the amount Burberry is spending on Leeds​.

​However ​Burberry knows that its British image and Yorkshire heritage means it must stay true to its roots.

The Leeds site will allow Burberry to continue to produce its most iconic product, the heritage trench coat, in Yorkshire where the brand has been manufacturing for over half a century.

The new facility will replace two existing manufacturing and weaving centres in Castleford and Cross Hills, in West Yorkshire. The plan is for all the teams from Castleford and Cross Hills to move to the new site, bringing all employees together under one roof. The company employs 700 staff in Castleford and around 70 in Cross Hills.

One question that has been raised is whether the Castleford and Cross Hills skilled workers will move to Leeds. For the 700 in Castleford, it will mean a commute of less than half an hour via the M62 or a 23 minute train journey. For the 70 in Cross Hills, it will mean a 50 minute commute.

Neither are insurmountable and Burberry has stressed that it values the “incredible skill” of its employees.

​But these employees will want certainty​ at a time when Brexit fears are causing concerns.

B​urberry’s refusal to give an opening date is not sending ​out the right message.

S​iting the facility in Leeds ticks a number of patriotic boxes. Manufacturing of the iconic brand is kept in the UK, the Northern Powerhouse is given a fillip and Yorkshire will also benefit, an area where Burberry is clearly comfortable to do business.

​Burberry championed its British roots in its festive advertising campaign and Mr Gobbetti would be unwise to unravel Mr Bailey’s decision to champion Yorkshire​.