As seen on screen – Sophie Glover on reinvigorating fashion with Makers HQ
Makers HQ is a unique and visionary community interest company jointly founded by Plymouth College of Art and Millfields Trust to provide sampling facilities to the fashion industry, with a strong focus on achieving ethical, British manufacture.
We caught up with Makers HQ Studio Manager, Sophie Glover, to find out all about her time working with brands like ASOS, Gap and Topshop, as well as the famous faces that have worn the garments she's worked on...
Where are you from and what is it that qualifies you to lead the development of Makers HQ?
I was born in Brixham, Devon, and grew up in the South West. I moved away to study at Manchester Metropolitan University and always intended to return to the South West eventually, so I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to come back with so much experience of the fashion and textile industries, so that I can share the things that I feel most passionately about, with a part of the world that I love so much.
At Manchester Met, I initially did an HND in Clothing Design and Technology for two years, before transferring onto the third year of a BSc in Clothing Product Development. The HND gave me so much practical experience in everything to do with the fashion industry, opening my eyes to jobs that I didn’t know existed. I didn’t realise you could be a buyer, merchandiser, garment technologist, production manager… all of these things were new to me. The HND taught me to love manufacture and how things were made, then the BSc allowed me to focus on technical skills and abilities.
You’ve worked with a lot of exciting brands. Where did you go first after graduating?
I got my first job as Trainee Technologist at the Topshop head office, on Oxford Street in London. I worked there for ten years and in that time chose a product category to specialise in, which for me was denim. I love Denim!
At Topshop, I worked my way up to become Senior Technologist, then was recruited by Gap when they opened a UK office. My next big role after that was when my friend Caren Downie, one of the best fashion and branding consultants in the UK, phoned me to say that she was working for a new online retailer and they needed a denim technician. That retailer was ASOS, and when I joined them I was around the hundredth employee. Now they employ thousands!
I stayed at ASOS for seven years and by the time I left I was Head of the Technical Department, where we employed around 30 Garment Technologists, and was also managing the Quality Control Department of around 60 people at a warehouse in Barnsley. Working with ASOS was a rollercoaster ride of incredibleness. They’re the leader in online retailing and it was a pleasure to work for them.
One thing that I found as I was promoted within the industry, is that you gradually become more detached from the creation of the products themselves, which are my great passion. So when Caren contacted me again at the beginning of setting up Finery London, I took the plunge again and joined her. Setting up a brand from scratch was an amazing experience. Finery had an ethos that was heavily focused on UK manufacturing and we sourced a high percentage of our products from the UK, sourcing factories and finding incredible local manufacturers.
I spent three years at Finery, and during that time I completed a PGCE, with a two-year placement at South Devon College. It was an amazing experience, working in the industry alongside preparing students to join that industry.
And all of those roles led you here, to Makers HQ?
That’s right! Both as a manager and an employer of people in different global fashion brands, it was difficult to find people with a balance of academic theory, practical skills, and industry experience. My intention is that people will be able to come to Makers HQ to develop all three – we’re going to offer a commercially-viable, functioning sampling unit, with education and training facilities alongside that.
We’re planning to achieve incredible things with Makers HQ, but they can only be achieved once they’re underpinned by a commercially viable business, so my first priority is to make a success out of our sampling unit. I want the local community to know that Makers HQ is now a resource for them to use and that we’re here to support the growth of their businesses.
What is the Makers HQ sampling unit and what will it mean for the South West?
Before any brand or retailer goes into bulk production with a new garment, they’ll always have a single unit made first. The fashion industry is a very touchy-feely business, we like to see how a garment moves and how the colour looks when its made up, so that sample unit will be taken into management meetings and product signoffs. That’s one of the things the sampling unit at Makers HQ will enable people to create, that first single unit.
Within our sampling unit, there’ll be a pattern cutter, machinists, graders… For anybody that doesn’t know what a grader does, that’s the person who can take the pattern for a size ten dress and grades it up and down to other sizes, so that it’s possible to make and sell that same dress in a size fourteen or a size six.
At its simplest level, the sampling unit will be here to support anybody interested in starting their own clothing brand. To do that you’d need a range of samples to take out to wholesalers and show to clients, essentially to allow them to make a choice about whether to stock your collection or not. And we’ll help to create those samples.
We’ll also offer a service to people who might not yet have the technical skills to take a sketch or an idea and turn it into a product. We’ll offer all of the support services needed to create your initial pattern and turn it into a physical sample garment.
How important to you is the fact that Makers HQ is based on the site of the old Jaeger Factory, which used to be the heart of textile manufacture in Plymouth?
Manufacturing played a huge part in the lives of the community here in Stonehouse and I feel like I owe it to the community to reignite that spark. Makers HQ is based on Union Street in the same building where the old Jaeger Factory used to be based. It feels fitting to start an endeavour like this within the same walls where sewing machines used to hum and cutters used to cut.
I’m keen to respect the heritage of the Jaeger Factory and Stonehouse community.
Around 250 people lost their jobs when the factory closed in 1997 and I want to talk to as many local people as I can about their experiences of working here when it was a manufacturing unit. You don’t need to make an appointment, just come in for a chat and a cup of tea. I want to know what sort of roles people were employed in, what the setup was like, what products people were making. I’d also love to see old photos.
Finally, your journey seems incredible. Would you recommend a career in textile manufacture?
I’ve worked in textile manufacturing since I graduated and it is the most exciting, incredible industry to work in. I want to share that passion with people. Manufacture is such a buzzy environment to work in. You have to work as a team, so there’s a real sense of camaraderie and belonging.
Textile manufacture requires such specific, technical skills, which used to be found in abundance in Plymouth and the rest of the country. If you have or can learn those technical skills, you’ll have the opportunity for an incredible, financially rewarding career.
There’s no feeling as brilliant as walking down the high street past somebody who looks amazing, and knowing that you played a role in the outfit that they’re wearing. I’ve worked on garments that have been worn by Kate Middleton, Michelle Obama, Kate Moss… And my work in the fashion industry has taken me all around the world, from Europe and North Africa to China, Morocco and Tunisia.