After finding a gap in the market following the withdrawal of Dickies from the UK, Adrian Burton of South East Workwear, set about creating his own workwear brand. The result – Oxford Workwear. Here he speaks with P&P editor Melanie Attlesey about the garments, the launch and more.
Q. First of all, what was catalyst behind the development of Oxford Workwear?
A. In October, Dickies announced they would no longer be selling workwear in the UK, Europe, the Middle east or Africa and the Williamson-Dickie EMEA HQ at Midsomer Norton would cease operations at the end of March. This closure not only left around 280 employees without jobs at their UK branch but also left a huge problem in the UK for the workwear industry. On the day of the announcement I, like many mainstream distributors, was not only shocked but also worried what the loss of such a huge brand in the UK would have on businesses. South East Workwear alone purchases around £200,000 worth of Dickies products a year and we will have issues finding an alternative product that is not only priced on a comparison level but also carries the brand reputation and quality that Dickies has built up in the UK since 1922.
We had recently invested heavily in a new retail store in Oxfordshire and pushed hard to have a centre of excellence for workwear. We had become one of the new market leaders, showcasing how workwear should be seen and displayed and not in the usual dusty, badly stocked builders’ merchants. A quarter of our 6,000sq ft retail store was set aside solely for Dickes and stacked with over £80,000 worth of stock.
The news for us couldn’t have been worse at the time, but as with all great businesses you make the most of it and reinvent, reinvest, and adapt. We immediately took the initiative to launch our own brand of trousers.
Q. How did you develop the range of trousers?
A. We have been selling workwear as a family for almost 30 years and run a successful YouTube channel called AskAdy. This has enabled us to listen to what the customers want. We then, using a company that has produced clothing for us for the past 10 years, started to put together a few samples.
We spent six months working hard to perfect our range of products, investing in our own stretch cotton fabric and eco packaging.
Q. Can you tell me more about the fabric used in the trousers?
A. We decided that we had to do it right and the buzzwords in the workwear industry are FLEX and STRETCH. Everyone who wears workwear wants to feel comfortable and a few years ago a few key manufacturers decided to introduce some flexible materials.
In some cases, they engineered a two-way stretch system and some a more flexible system that gave a four-way all over stretch. The benefits from this are exceptionally important for tradesmen who find themselves working in tricky conditions such as an electrician in a loft space or a builder climbing a ladder.
With this in mind we had to take the plunge and invest in the material that would give us this key selling feature. From my experience in reviewing and selling workwear products I have looked at thousands of pairs of trousers and I can certainly say that this has already started to shape the future of the industry. Demand has increased and already my store stocks trousers in Oxford Flexi Fabric, engineered to move with you all day. We have three different styles of flexible material trousers and the requests for this product is on the increase.
Oxford Flexi Fabric is produced from a preshrunk 97% cotton/ 3% elastane material. It is finished in a peach finish and due to the natural fibres allows exceptional breathability.
In addition to offering a cost-effective option, we have also produced two entry level products that are manufactured from a traditional poly/ cotton fabric. The mix is a 65/ 35% polyester/ cotton mix and we call this the Oxford Work Fabric.
Q. Can you go into detail about the five trousers in the Oxford Workwear range?
A. There are five trousers in the Oxford Workwear range, all of which are named after hospitals in Oxfordshire.
The Radcliffe Craftsman Work Trousers are made from 97% cotton and 3% elastane Oxford Flexi Fabric. Designed with the wearer in mind, they allow unrestricted all-day movement and comfort with a multitude of pockets for functionality for any trade’s person.
The Nuffield Service Trousers, made from 97% cotton and 3% elastane Oxford Flexi Fabric, are designed for unrestricted all-day movement and comfort with cargo pockets and top loading knee pad pouches. They can be worn in a warehouse by a craftsman or as part of a functional uniform. This has a modern cut and feels like a premium product to wear. The trousers give exceptional breathability due to the natural fibres.
The Horton All Trades Cargo Trousers are made from 97% cotton and 3% elastane Oxford Flexi Fabric. Designed with a younger audience in mind, because of the slimmer cut.
The Churchill Cargo Work Trousers are ones that we feel will be one of the more popular affordable work trousers on the market. They bring more comfort and new features to the classic cargo work pant. Produced from 65/ 35% poly/ cotton fabric that is designed to be lightweight and yet hard wearing.
The Warneford is a multi-pocket tradesman trouser, produced from 65/ 35% poly/ cotton fabric that is designed to be lightweight and yet hard wearing, with an abundance of pockets. This work pant will offer holster pockets, a cargo pocket and a tool pocket (one in each leg), a drop-down hem for extendable length and a top loading knee pad pouch produced from reinforced ballistic nylon fabric.
We also have in production our Radcliffe work trouser as a shorts version ready to land this month. These come in three colour versions, black, grey and navy blue. Again, these carry all the key features of the full-length trousers in our cotton four-way flex.
Q. Do you have plans to introduce any further products for the range?
A. We have in development a range of safety footwear. We have four styles coming out Q3 for 2021 and we think they will be a big hit. Also planned for the collection is coveralls and matching trousers in rip stop fabric.
Q. Do you offer a bespoke option for customers?
A. Yes! We also offer a bespoke trouser production service to our corporate clients and the end user. If you have a requirement for a custom designed product then we offer a full design service. For a small fee we will design your own trousers and provide you with a sample, the MOQ is 250 units and our costs are exceptionally competitive.
If you are an end user and don’t want one of our off the peg items then we also offer a customisation service. Should you want to add or remove pockets, change a cargo pocket from the left to the right leg, choose a relaxed fit or even have a slim cut, then we can make this on demand within four weeks. It’s a premium and new service to the market but we feel this offers our customers a previously unseen approach to making sure you get the product you want.
Q. Do you have any advice for garment decorators when it comes to embellishing these trousers?
A. If you are considering decorating the garments, I would suggest looking at our own bespoke service. We are offering custom made trousers that can be white labelled to your own customer requirements and branded with a company logo. However, if you wish to brand the products yourself then we would always recommend embroidery and two pieces of tear-out backing for stability.
Q. Why did you call the range Oxford Workwear?
A. For us it captures the heritage of not only the roots of our family’s business but also carries with it a legacy of education in science and technology from so many forward-thinking leaders born in our city. Our product base though isn’t just about making excellent quality workwear that can be worn as the new leisurewear, but a range that offers technical quality and increased durability.
Q. Where and when is the range available?
A. For the soft launch the initial distribution will be handled by Oxford Workwear for the first two to three weeks, then we will transfer the distribution to UK-based companies which will be listed on the OW website. Full stock is available now.