Last time I visited LondonEdge in September 2017, I was transfixed by one particular stall, Elements Rainwear.
Now, I had been made aware of this company by some vintage gal pals when we attended the summer Pin Up Picnic in the Park.
Sadly although it was July, it was a pretty rainy day and I fell in love with these wonderful vintage style raincoats that a few of the ladies were wearing.
See thru, heavy duty hooded raincoats with full skirts. This meant you could still see the beautiful vintage clothing underneath, yet stay perfectly dry! I immediately wanted one.
A few weeks later, at L0ndonEdge, the company were in attendance with some wonderful coats on display. Having a good old chat with them, I found out we were both based in the same County, In fact only 35 minutes drive from one another, and we agreed to get in touch to arrange something.
So, I was really grateful to get an email from the lovely Tacha at Elements Rainwear inviting me for a tour of the company and to see just how the raincoats were designed and made.
I found out a couple of weeks before that another blogger, Vicky Stuart would be attending at the same time. I have known Vicky a couple of years and had in fact modelled for/with her at a recent fashion show which you can read all about here. I knew it would be even more fun with us both visiting the company!
So, off I plodded to the factory based in leafy Northamptonshire. Initially my Satnav was being an arse and sent me down a tiny little dirt track, to which I could look over and see the industrial estate, but I couldn’t get to it!
Take two and I finally arrived at my chosen destination at exactly the same time as Vicky! After greeting each other, we headed into the unit, to be greeted by Tacha and the boss, Gary.
This was where the fun started.
Gary took us up to the factory where there were numerous people working on some quite old yet technical machines. He started off by showing us the rails were all the patterns were hung. These were predominantly patterns from the 1950’s!
Next to the patterns was a huge flat work space were a couple of people were hand cutting the sheets of PVC and PU from the patterns available. They stock over 40 colours, including polka dots and even cute teddy bears.
PVC was actually invented back in the 1930’s when the demand for rubber could not be met, due to the main suppliers being based in Malaysia, and the difficulty in getting it during the following war years.
Gary told us that back in the 50’s there was an array of UK sellers of PVC and PU that you could get stock from. However the last two UK manufacturers closed in the 1990’s. The only option is to get the base product from China. This can be a costly business as you can only buy it by the Tonne. That means you have to order 3000 metres of each colour. This equates to 30 rolls and you cannot mix your colours and patterns.
This means the factory has to order a minimum of 30 rolls of every single colour they plan to make an item in. That is an awful lot of stock if the colour/pattern doesn’t prove popular!
The demand for rain wear was a huge market back in the 1960’s. Marks Brothers based in Manchester made 200,000 coats a week which were sold in Woolworths and Marks & Spencer. Nowadays there are virtually no manufacturers at all.
Gary told us about the products they work with, PU and PVC.
PU is a lot stronger than PVC and gives a fuller shape and drape, however it does make it difficult to work with. There is also a lot of controversy over PU as it is believed to be full of phalates that could possibly be damaging to the environment. Most of their work is done with PVC and they have it in every colour imaginable.
Most of the machines were purchased from the original Mclaren Pushchair factory back in the 1990’s when Gary started in a little farm unit back in Towcester. As the business has grown, so has the need for larger premises.
The machinery all has an individual purpose and take up most of the factory floor space. All of the workers in the factory are based on different machines. There are pieces of equipment that do zips, ruffles, buttons, poppers, binding and even zig-zags.
We were able to see a cute gingham dress that had been made. It had puff sleeves, bows on the chest and lace trimming around the sleeves. It really was so well designed and constructed, it was hard to believe it was made of PVC.
The PVC has to be welded together to form joins, pockets and collars. The buttons are welded on too. These are not welded in the sense of someone with a blowtorch though. The machine is actually a high-frequency welder. When the PVC is put onto a straight, thin metal plate, the molecules are jiggled about. When lifted off the molecules form together, connecting the joins.
Again another issue that the company faces is the fact that this is old technology. Twenty years ago you could find high-frequency engineers everywhere. Now there are only two left in the whole UK, and they are nearing retirement age. Gary told us that he had become quite proficient in repairing the machines for the most part. However if it was an internal issue, then it may have to be scrapped completely.
When asked of the likelihood, he told us that they had never had to scrap one yet and in fact, the buttonholer machine had welded in excess of 10 million buttons and was still going strong. They really did build them to last, back in the day.
The last process was for the items to be checked for quality, and we could see this on a jacket and trouser set in blue, and some frilly underwear (another product the company manufactures)
One of the most amazing facts that we found out was that all the off cuts and trimmings that are too small and cannot be used for any part of a design are sold off for scrap. One tonne of the off cuts is bought by a local company and they make Wheelie Bins out of it! What a fabulous eco-friendly thing to do.
We were finally shown downstairs where the end products were packed and sent off by the ladies in the office; we also found out that they put a little package of goodies in each delivery, which we agreed was great customer friendly service.
We were then taken down to the studio area where they do most of the photography. Hanging on a couple of rails were the finished designs, in numerous colours. It was like letting children loose in a sweet shop.
We were encouraged to try on anything we wanted, and Vicky delved right in with the Romantica; A full skirted vintage pattern coat in opaque PVC. The Romantica retails at just under £65, but as it is all handmade, it should last a lifetime.
It looked divine on her and you really could see her fabulous gingham dress underneath. A 3XL fitted her perfectly, although the company do make items from size 8 – 22.
Then came out the Ruby in a polka-dot pattern. The Ruby has a slightly less full skirt, but a placket at the back gives added detail. Vicky looked super in it, and we posed and prance around their studio. The Ruby is a little cheaper at £50, mainly due to the skirt not having as full a design.
Gary handed me an opaque Romantica in a 4XL. I simply fell in love with it. It showed off my floral dress and the fullness of the skirt was fabulous. I am not going to lie, it was a little tight over my bust (but then everything I own has the same problem) but as it comes with a belt and laces to tie up at the hood, the poppers don’t have to be done up to protect you from the rain.
I was shocked when Gary told both of us that we could keep the raincoats and hopefully we would love wearing them as much as they did making them. I was blown away by his generosity and had to give him a big hug thank-you!
Sadly it was almost time to leave, so we asked our last few questions and thanked everyone for having us to visit.
The whole tour was amazing and I was fascinated to see just how the products were made. I was almost mesmerised with the processes and could probably have stood there and watched them all day.
Vicky and I walked out chatting about the whole visit and what a great product it was that they were manufacturing.
I have since had call to wear my coat, and I can confirm I was a dry as a desert, whilst looking stylish in my Romantica. I think you would be hard pushed to find anything quite like the coats that Elements offer, and I for one am so glad I got to go and find out how it was all made.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Gary and his whole team for having us invade their work space, it really was a fascinating day.
What do you think to the colours and design’s that the team offer? What colour would YOU choose?
Till next time,