You all know how much I enjoy a spot of factory porn. I love little more than visiting my favourite factories in nooks and crannies across the country. In a collaboration with photographer John Spinks, Albam have opened up the doors to their craftsmen and workspaces with Factories. I first learned about the project during my visit to Albam's Islington store back in May. My factory porn appetite was whet by two framed images which were hung on the downstairs wall. Ever since that sighting I had been keen to get my hands on the fruits of countless factory visits, picture taking, numerous sittings, conversations, lighting adjustments and the occassional loss of cameras. Last Thursday was the launch event in collaboration with Esquire but as the well turned out masses descended on their Beak Street store I was unable to get my excited hands on a copy. Damn Albam's popularity. On Saturday afternoon I returned and finally picked a copy up for myself.
Albam are of course involved in the entire manufacturing process and their factories are obviously a fundamental facet of the brand. This book is about the making process, the people and the places behind the products. When James Shaw and Alastair Rae started Albam, people told them that you could not make anything in England anymore. Of course Albam proved these naysayers wrong but the small workforce that exists are just a rumour of what existed before. If they decide to retire tomorrow, then the industry's gone. Factories celebrates the craftsmen of the label and British industry as a whole while making consumers consider how their wardrobe favourites have been made. To mark the launch, I had a quick chat with James Shaw and alongside our resulting discussion I can share a selection of my favourite pages...
SS: One facet of the brand is to bring as much product back to Britain and you've spent the last few years building a business which is enabling your British factories to grow and develop with you. 'Factories' feels like a celebration of all of this work and acts as a real showcase for the people, the unsung craftsmen who help make Albam what it is. Was this the driving catalyst for the project?
James Shaw: FACTORIES has been the culmination of two years worth of picture taking. It started with a conversation about what happens if they factories/industry was to stop tomorrow and had it been recently documented. As there doesn't seem to have been a document of the factories we use for a number of years it seemed like a great idea to capture the people that we work with and have done since we started. The conversation between John and myself in the front of the book gives the most detail but I am so excited by the people we work with because there is so much more to them than just making clothes. The way they interact with their tools and surroundings, they just make you want to be in the spaces they work in and get making great products.
SS: When we last spoke to you back in November of last year, you mentioned that the British manufacturing industry is a close knit community which relies heavily on word of mouth discovery. The book offers a welcome insight. How conscious were you of the sense of opening the doors of a seemingly hidden world?
James Shaw: It doesn't feel like opening a hidden world really as it is all around us in each city and it is the world that Albam operates in alongside having stores in London. Our studio in Nottingham is the centre of the garment making district that is sadly minute and it feels quite poignant for the book to be released just as we open our studio up here. Where clothes come from is becoming important as it is in other industries, food for example. The people that go into making Albam what it is are not just in the stores the customers see, but they go back through people in the book and those that didn't make it in the final edit.
SS: How has the relationship with your factories evolved in recent years?
James Shaw: The relationship has just got stronger, they are very important to us as we are to them. There is a sense of doing something in the right way and the results are hopefully worth it for those who wear our clothes and other products. Long may it continue on all fronts!
SS: The images are stunning, how did come to work with John Spinks for this project?
James Shaw: John came into the store in our second week of opening our first store and sent us an email on the Saturday evening he came in the store. I seem to remember details like that! He liked our approach and we liked his approach to image making and then we worked on our AW08 shoot and the relationship started. As we are all from the Midlands we maybe share a certain approach and affinity to our respective professions.
SS: Ultimately, what do you hope the project will achieve?
James Shaw: Apart from selling the book, we would like to think that it will cause people to think about what they are buying, where it is made and also for some they may see that there is something very satisfying about getting involved in this industry. It is hard work, but we wouldn't change it for the world and if people can get the satisfaction we get then that would be worthwhile.
SS: What's next for Albam?
James Shaw: There is so much to do, behind the scenes, in the stores, with the range that there would be too much to list. The future is certainly looking very exciting and this goes from a business perspective to getting the wash perfect on garments. Imminently we have a new website that will launch and should give a clearer insight into what we are doing with the brand and bring out the personality more without it becoming cliche. In short there is lots happening so watch this space!
Even if you are not in to your factory porn as much as I am, I do hope you can see that it is a beautiful book. The 'Made in England' label has been discussed in length throughout the blogosphere. What does it actually mean? Factories helps to answer this very question. A compilation of stunning imagery depicting the people, spaces, materials, machinery and tools that make up Albam. Factories is currently available at three store locations but will no doubt be available on their website shortly.