BBC Culture Interview

Why we’ve always loved the seaside

BBC Designed

Yarmouth Oilskins designer Sophie Miller was recently interviewed by fashion historian and writer Amber Butchart for a piece she was writing for the BBC’s Culture online.

Amber was looking into the long lasting appeal of seaside style and the allure of coastal fashion.

The finished piece can be found at BBC Culture however you can read the full interview Sophie gave here. 

What’s the history of Yarmouth Stores and what inspired you to revive it? 

Yarmouth Stores has been making hard wearing clothing on the quayside in Great Yarmouth for well over 100 years . 

Originally renowned for producing waterproofs and protective work wear for the North Sea fishing industry , over time the company grew and began exporting oilskins, knitwear and clothing to markets throughout the world. 

The company opened stores in ports throughout Britain and prior to the Second World War, employed more than 1,200 people. 

The majority being factory workers and sewing machinists who made overalls, uniforms, smocks as well as other work wear in its factories in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

As with a great deal of clothing manufacturers in the UK, towards the end of the 20th Century,  Yarmouth Stores found themselves in direct competition with much cheaper overseas manufacturing sources. This meant trying to compete on price with lesser quality work wear from Asia ,  which isn’t possible to do nor is it sustainable. 

In 2017 a small team of us decided we should revive our own brand label Yarmouth Oilskins , drawing on the amazing history of the company and the heritage of our town. 

We decided that we should start with a  small collection of key pieces from our archive , concentrating on putting back in all the beautiful hand made detailing , that had been engineered out over the years in a bid to compete with Asian imports . We use french seaming , and woven bindings and make all our products by hand with love care and attention.

The relaunch was timely in that it managed to pick up on the zeitgeist for ‘slow make’ , made in Britain , sustainable clothing , a real backlash to the spiralling trend of disposable fashion. People are increasingly asking ‘who made my clothes’ and wanting to know the origin of what they buy.

Our products are designed and built to last a lifetime , in fact to get better with age , wash and wear. 

We are proud to have “Made in Great Britain” on the tag of every garment produced, Yarmouth Stores remains a British, 7th generation family owned business. 

Today we continue to grow and innovate with recent triumphs including the launch of our own label Yarmouth Oilskins at Jacket Required in 2018 . 

Our Brand was listed in The Guardian as one of the Top Six Ethical Menswear Brands in 2018

Where is your clothing made, and why? 

We manufacture the garments in our own factory on the Quayside in Great Yarmouth , overlooking the River Yare , where we have done for at least the last 50 years. Huge ships from all over the world sail past the window of our sewing room,  into port.

Fabric comes in from the street directly into the cutting room where Barry and Beth work on the lay plan , it’s then passed on to husband and wife team Richard and Lorraine for cutting , and then the individual  garment bundles are taken upstairs to the machine room . 

We have a team of 14 machinists who each make a garment more or less from beginning to end . Once complete , they’ll pass it on to the finishers for bar tacks and buttoning , and then on to Carol and Debbie in Quality Control for trimming and final checking.

Why do you think coastal clothing still holds such appeal today? 

I think coastal clothing , much the same as all authentic work wear,  appeals due to it’s timeless style born out of practicality and functionality. 

Every aspect of the garment has evolved for a practical reason , which is the polar opposite of some fashion. 

It’s also a style evocative of seaside memories , escapism , time outdoors , and a bygone age.

The durability of the clothes and hard wearing fabrics mean the pieces get better and better with age and wear , and almost become a story in themselves , a piece of your own history , ‘for the journey’ 

Fishing clothing has inspired artists and designers at the coast for over a century (from Chanel to Picasso) – why are fishermen such fashionable figures?

Seafarers have always had a rugged , practical ‘hands on’ image , out at sea in all weather , braving the elements – perhaps the antithesis of a 21st century office job , tapping on a keyboard , so maybe there’s something in that , escapism , and almost role playing at a much more practical lifestyle.

Also the colour palette and materials of nautical clothing and fishing gear is just the best – you can’t argue with the beauty of a Sunshine Yellow Oilskin over a deep rich navy wool gansey, or maybe a ecru Submariner jumper and Wellington boots !