Marks and Spencer will be launching their Best of British range this autumn, featuring British-designed, British-made clothes manufactured from largely British-woven cloths. As this report on Make It British reveals, this is more than simply a marketing exercise:
Marks and Spencer made its reputation in the early 20th century on a policy of only selling British-made goods. It entered into long term relationships with British manufacturers, and sold British-made clothes and food under the "St Michael" brand. This policy was abandoned in 2002 after profits peaked at £1Bn in 1998, dropping by 90% by 2001. This belated and very public switch away from British manufacturing further dented their image and has left M&S as simply another high street retailer, with only their quality image to differentiate themselves.
Some analysts believe that the period just before 1998 saw profit margins being pushed too far. Combined with their uniquely British supply-chain, this resulted in prices being much too high. At the same time, their image was left to stagnate, appealing only to conservative mature shoppers.
It will be fascinating to see how successful this range is. Hopefully enough people care about this and hear about it to make it successful. There's a general view that as manufacturing costs rise in China and other markets, and shoppers become more aware of where goods are made, a small but notable shift is happening bringing manufacturing back to western economies such as UK and USA. That makes some sense, but it's much too early to tell if this real or wished-for.