Meet East London’s Finest Manufacturers
Underneath the arches, in side roads, canal-side industrial estates and cobbled streets, East London’s industries are continuing centuries-old manufacturing traditions.
This part of the capital boasts the UK’s oldest umbrella-makers, printers and envelope makers dating back to the early 1800s. They sit alongside newer businesses: bespoke furniture makers, London’s only craft denim makers, soft drinks manufacturers and more.
Most tell a story of rising rents and rates, some speak of traditional skills dying out and all are proudly entrenched in the communities they serve. They’re among more than 100 businesses taking part in East End Indie Weekend on December 1 st , 2nd and 3 rd – an event promoting the character and community of East London and encouraging people to spend locally this Christmas.
Many are throwing open their doors to give insight into East End industries and some are marking the event with special discounts.
Krissie Nicolson, founding organiser of the East End Trades Guild, said: “As well as maintaining the heritage, character and traditions of this area, local manufacturers contribute towards the diversity of the city’s economy; ensuring we don’t over rely on the financial sectors and they provide well-needed jobs and skills.
“Some of these manufacturing industries have been around for centuries; they’ve survived world wars, modernisation and recessions and now they face a new threat, which is rent and rate rises. Some of them are the last of their kind and if we lose them, that’s it and it’s the end of a way of life in East London.”
In the past 30 years the UK’s manufacturing sector has shrunk by two-thirds. The threats to local industries are unprecedented. Rents have risen by up to 30 per cent and many have been hit by higher business rates. These independent businesses are major local employers, yet their way of life is under threat.
The Local Buyers Club, a member of the East End Trades Guild, has been talking to local manufacturers about the ups and downs of running a business here. Square Root Soda, which offers 10% off online to Local Buyers Club members, have been making small batch seasonal fruit sodas at their factory in Hackney Downs for the past five years.
Co-founder Robyn Simms said: “We’re so lucky to be doing this in East London where there are so many other local manufacturers who are always around to lend you a spanner, let you peek at their new equipment or even just listen to you complain if you need to.
“The biggest threat to us is lack of access to commercial space. We definitely need larger premises to continue doing what we’re doing in the way that we do it, so the devaluing of commercial space over residential is a real threat to us. A lot of the industrial spaces in East London are slowly disappearing to make way for expensive housing and developments with no accounting for where our kinds of business will move to in the future. This is just leading to a huge migration of businesses further out of the city and eventually this will damage local economies and access to local jobs for people.”
From their workshop in East London, Fay Sebel and Sara Hampson make stunning eco-friendly furniture from reclaimed wood.
La Maison De Furniture was born out of this talented couple’s dream of making stylish eco-friendly furniture accessible and affordable. They design furniture that reflects the individual quirks and character of each piece of wood and only source materials from the UK.
Sara told the Local Buyers Club the best thing about running a manufacturing industry is “the endless possibilities in terms of what you can create and sell.” She said their biggest threat is the cost of space in London and added: “At the moment we are lucky to have a space within the Blackhorse Workshop, but we will eventually outgrow it and worry about the availability of affordable space in London.”
As well as offering 10% off online to members of the Local Buyers Club, they’re offering 10% off to everyone during East End Indie weekend (just enter the code EAST END at the checkout).
Denim makers Blackhorse Lane Ateliers have been in business for just 18 months and, as the City’s only craft denim maker, are on a mission to fight fast fashion.
David Giusti, of Blackhorse, said: “London’s manufacturing heritage is quickly disappearing, resulting in a loss of machinists, knowledge and community.”
Their factory shop will be open during East End Indie Weekend (9am-5.30pm on Friday December 1 st and 11am till 5.30pm on Saturday December 2 nd ) and their pop up restaurant Denim N’ Dine will also be open.
Krissie added: “As London’s first big manufacturing area, the East End has a history of attracting work-seekers. Once you’ve lost manufacturing skills they’re really difficult to get back because they’re handed down through people via hands-on apprenticeships.”
The Ince family have been making umbrellas in East London for over 200 years and, as well as exporting worldwide, supply many of the businesses in the Square Mile. In the 1800s this sixth-generation manufacturing business used whalebone to make its frames, but switched to a steel ‘rib’ as soon as it was invented. In their early days they made carriage umbrellas and Victorian bathing tents, they relocated when a World War II bomb devastated their premises and are now based by the canal in Vyner Street.
Another local manufacturer with a strong local history is printing specialist Baddeley Brothers, which opened in 1859. They’re now based in Maybank Road and offer invitations, envelopes, business cards and more – in the early 19 th century they worked in East London as engravers of plates for the printing industry and made seal dies for the embossing presses.
These businesses and dozens more are among those to feature on a collectible map designed by world-renowned artist Adam Dant for East End Indie Weekend. Copies will be given out to visitors throughout the weekend.
Check out the #INDIEWKND Instagram Treasure Hunt to win a pair of jeans from Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, a beechwood umbrella from Ince Umbrellas, the Baddeley Brothers Book by THE GENTLE AUTHOR and many more wonderful gifts.
If you are a small business based in East London then be sure to help us work with partners the New Economics Foundation to tackle the rents issue by completing this short survey by Monday 4th December – https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/EETG