Yorkshire fashion brands are part of our heritage and our very fabric

Stephanie Smith continues her series highlighting the creative talents and coping strategies of the region’s independent fashion designers and retailers.

Rhian Kempadoo Millar of Yorkshire cap company Kempadoo Millar Headwear.

AS the coronavirus crisis continues, the future of the fashion industry is increasingly in danger with a significant number of retailers large and small under serious threat.

Some argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing, that fashion needed to change, move away from its reliance on the mass production of cheap clothing, clean up its act regarding planet pollution, worker exploitation and landfill waste.

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The fashion revolution had already begun, with sustainability the watchword of recent seasons, and customers of all ages and pockets showing a new awareness of the ethics and provenance of the clothes they wear. Designers, producers and retailers were listening, looking for ways to recycle, cut waste and make the world a cleaner, better place. This, surely, hopefully, can only grow once the crisis is over.

A selection of caps by Yorkshire cap company Kempadoo Millar Headwear. Kempadoo cap wearers include actor Idris Elba, World Champion Boxer Anthony Joshua and HRH The Prince of Wales.

Now the fashion industry really has a chance to prove itself by stepping up to the coronavirus challenge, reminding us that clothing and its manufacture are vital, part of the fabric of human daily life. High-end designer fashion has long been accused of engendering triviality and narcissism while having little idea of, or care for, what happens in the “real world”, yet some are switching production to make essential protective clothing. Burberry is repurposing its Castleford factory to make non-surgical gowns and masks for patients, and using its global supply chain to fast- track the delivery of more than 100,000 surgical masks for use by NHS workers. There are similar initiatives from designers and retailers across the world.

Meanwhile, our local independent fashion companies are facing an uncertain future with shops closed and concerns about how long their supply and delivery chains can stay open. But they too are rising to the challenge of survival. They have the advantage of knowing their customers well and being small enough to be agile. Some are taking the opportunity to rethink their strategies, learn new skills and explore new creative avenues as they adapt to the life we have now and plan for the future. Here is how some Yorkshire brands are meeting the challenges.

Rhian Kempadoo Millar, Kempadoo Millar Headwear, Leeds

Rhian said: “It’s challenging for us all at the moment but I have been doing a lot of art, painting and sketching, which I generally wouldn’t have time to do so, that is keeping me positive and creative.

Dorothy Lee of Montana Northallerton, wearing Harris tweed coat, £295, also available in pink, and the Jackie cap in Scottish Tweed, waterproof and lined, £65.

“We are just about keeping going as 80 per cent of our custom was online anyhow but it is difficult not to feel worried when the business you have poured your heart and soul into hangs in the balance.

“Kempadoo Millar Headwear has been promoting ethical, locally made British products for six years but at a time like this it seems entrepreneurs, creatives and small businesses do seem to have been thrown under the bus by our government and the banks when we need them most.

“I had agreed to redevelop my website with a local company at the beginning of the year so we have renegotiated the timeline and made a plan to stagger the payments. They have been amazing and we are all in the same boat trying to help each other out over the coming months. Hopefully, a new website will help make the business more internationally visible and help us to rebuild.

“It’s a strange one at the moment as we are facing such a global crisis with so many people losing their lives. I struggle to use social media as a selling tool as it feels insensitive, but social media is a nice way of staying connected and sharing all the positive things which are happening.

Cotton blouse £69.50, from a selection at Montana Northallerton.

“I have a great new home office which I did up in January so it’s bright and cheerful to work from. I do all of the orders from the home office now and have hygiene rules while handling the hats and packaging. I then walk with the dog to the village post office to combine our daily exercise with my work commitments and keep supporting local at this time.

“I feel so grateful to customers who have continued to order caps, especially as gifts for loved ones they can’t be with.”


Dorothy Lee, Montana Northallerton, women’s and men’s clothing retailer

Annie Stirk, Carolyn Amos and Elisa Winstanley modelling the new collection from Copper & White. Picture: Andrea Dennis of Pink Lily Photography

Specialising in countrywear, with a shop on High Street, Northallerton, and an online website.

Dorothy said: “Montana’s thriving business came to a full stop after returning from the bustling and busy Cheltenham National Hunt Meeting where we met up with our lovely customers old and new.

“With our outdoor events calendar now cancelled, among them the prestigious Badminton and Bramham Horse Trials, the Royal Highland and the Great Yorkshire Show where customers buy their sporting fashion for the coming season, we are facing challenging times, but feel grateful to be fit and well.

“With the enforced closedown of Montana in Northallerton, we are updating our website and creating new styles of jackets for ladies and gentlemen in fabulous new tweeds. Our extensive range of gents caps which has repeat customers nationwide consists of four styles in 15 different tweeds. For National Tweed Day, we launched a new ladies cap, Jackie, in two lovely tweeds.

“We are sure when the lockdown is lifted, Northallerton with its wide range of shops large and small will be ready to offer a great welcome to all.”

www.montananorthallerton.com, [email protected]

Clare Morris of Copper & White

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Clare Morris, Copper & White, womenswear retailer, Pocklington, York

Clare said: “On the day that we had to stop trading at the Shambles Market, we felt that our whole world had been stripped away from us. All of those years of hard work and plans for the future were put on hold in an instant. Some of the events that we normally exhibit at have also been put on hold – Living North, Ascot Fashion Week. We were also heavily involved in York Fashion Week, which has now been postponed, but we are all determined to make sure our events go ahead at a later date.

“We always have to forward order our stock as we like to offer customers an exclusive collection. In February, we took delivery of our Spanish collection, Compania Fantastica, and in March, of Bamboo Wardrobe made in Vietnam. We’re now ready to launch our spring/summer collection, but we have nowhere to launch it other than my online store.

“We’re able to look at a situation, have a slight wobble, then formulate a plan. This time it is a little harder to formulate a plan as we really don’t know what the next few months will bring. However, we’ve always wanted to develop the online side of the business, so we see this as an opportunity to do that. We now have a leisurewear section on our website, which offers a range of stylish and comfortable clothes which are great for wearing around the house. It’s good for morale and mindset, to get dressed and feel good.

“We have some more items to add to our online store, so we’re rapidly learning photography skills and, hopefully, we’ll be able to use our time in isolation to use family members to model for us. We even have plans to dust down the sewing machine and start making items again.

“Social media is a huge help as it ensures that people know that we are still operating. It’s also a great form of escapism for customers. It’s also a vital resource for all small businesses as we tend to stick together so share each other’s posts or comment on them.

“We’re working from home. Living in the countryside gives us a perfect opportunity to cycle or walk for an hour and we’re using this crisis as an opportunity to become healthier and stronger. With an elderly relative to look after, we have to minimise contact.

“We can’t wait to see our customers again and hope that all of York pulls together after this. All businesses are really going to need the support of our locals.”


Natalia Willmott, L’Atelier Natalia Willmott

Jewellery, gifts and decorative homewares and My Billet Doux (love cushions and bridal ring cushions), based at Stillingfleet, near York.

Natalia said: “The exhibitions and private consultations have all stopped for the moment. Online business has slowed down significantly. I am OK because I have space and love creating and I am used to the ups and downs. So I am taking this time to be with my family and do lots of thinking. I am mostly positive but I have had wobbles, particularly as my mum is not well – she lives in Paris – and I haven’t been able to visit.

“I am focusing on building engagement and working on my brand by creating more content, some that is evergreen and some I can use at a later date. This has involved me learning new skills such as picture editing and video editing. I am on a great Pinterest course with Jen Stanbrook and I am building engagement, particularly on Instagram. Remaining visible is key, so I am sending more regular newsletters to my customers.

“I am working remotely entirely and only post once a week while doing my weekly shop. I have been involved in providing care packages in my village. I am collaborating with another business, Ananya Cards, on ‘a give a gift’ competition on my Instagram page which involves someone winning a gift from my shop and a card to give to someone who has helped them. It could be a key worker, NHS staff, your postman or delivery driver.

“This shall pass, keep well, keep positive, take the day minute by minute. Enjoy what you have and dream of what will be. I look forward to seeing you all again.”

www.nataliawillmott.co.uk and www.mybilletdoux.com.

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Natalia Willmott gold plated bronze and ruby drop earrings, £130; Luvshifting kimono in silk crepe de chine, £515; My Billet Doux silk cushion, £210, and notebook, £12. Model Rachel Peru; photographer Masque Photography; hair and make-up artist Sonia Schofield Make Up
Natalia Willmott wears mosaic earrings from her own shop.