Luxury brand Burberry had a number of choices when deciding where to site its new multi-million pound manufacturing facility, which will be dedicated to producing the group’s iconic trench coat.
At a time when its Chinese customers make up a third of 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 when the pound is so strong against the euro.
Siting its new factory in either Asia or Europe would have cost a fraction of the amount Burberry is spending on its new manufacturing and weaving facility in Leeds, but Burberry knows that its British image and Yorkshire heritage are a vital part of its brand.
The decision will allow Burberry to continue to produce its most iconic product in Yorkshire, where the brand has been manufactured for over half a century.
Burberry’s CEO, Halifax-born Christopher Bailey, said he was delighted that the next chapter of Burberry’s manufacturing story will be right here in Yorkshire.
“It’s incredibly important that the heritage trench coat is manufactured in Britain,” 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.
“In a world that is changing and technology forever changing, it is important to foster the timeless skills and quality which is becoming more and more important.”
Work on the new site in the South Bank of Leeds, which will employ over 1,000 people, will start next year with an initial investment of £50m. The facility should be completed in 2019.
Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: “The Burberry announcement 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 over the next few years, an area where Burberry is clearly comfortable to do business, as it has been over several decades.”
The new facility will replace two centres in West Yorkshire. The plan is for all the employees from Castleford and Cross Hills to move to the new site. The company employs 700 staff in Castleford and 70 in Cross Hills.
This has raised a few questions about what will happen to the Castleford and Cross Hills sites.
Darren Travis, GMB organiser for the Castleford site, said: “The Castleford building is not really fit for purpose any more. It’s tired, there is asbestos and Burberry is an expanding company so it needs a new home.
“But it is a blow to Castleford as a town. We have had clothing manufacturers on the site for more than 100 years – it is the end of an era.”
A vital question now is whether the 770 skilled workers will move to Leeds. For the 700 in Castleford, it means a commute of less than half an hour. For the 70 in Cross Hills, it means a 50-minute commute. Neither are insurmountable and Burberry has stressed that it values the “incredible skill” of its employees.
“This is the start of the dialogue with our employees,” said a spokesman.
“We want every single one of our employees to keep working for Burberry.”
Mr Bailey’s decision shows that the firm has learned from its previous mistakes. In 2007 it closed a factory in South Wales with the loss of 300 jobs.
At the time Burberry said the polo shirts produced at the site could be made at greater quality and with significantly lower cost overseas.
Such a decision was short-sighted.
Burberry’s investment in Yorkshire and its commitment to its skilled workers should be applauded.
Mr Bailey may mix with the likes of Elton John and the Beckhams, but he hasn’t forgotten his own Yorkshire heritage.