Made in Britain - our conversation with Upender Mehra

TROY manufactures every garment in the UK and has developed strong relationships with several factories around the country that specialise in outerwear, leatherwork, knitwear and shirting alongside smaller teams of independent seamstresses, pattern cutters and many more.
One of our most special relationships is with Upender Mehra, a former punk designer and factory manager in Bolton. Here we chat with him about his fascinating story, what he is passionate about and what he thinks is in store for British manufacturing.
Upender, it is a coincidence that we have this conversation during Royal Ascot week, somewhere you have spent quite some time I understand?
Yes! Quite funny for a kid from inner-city Birmingham… but in 1996 I was working as a designer and was asked to create a daywear collection for Royal Ascot racegoers to enjoy off the course. It was a wonderful time, with plenty of fancy lunches at the track, but the collection launch was cancelled in the aftermath of the tragic death of Princess Diana. Ascot is still a place I hold close to my heart.
Tell us about you and how you came to own and manage the factory you are standing in?
Having lost the Royal Ascot project overnight, and with a young family to support, I asked to join the factory Beaver of Bolton to improve their country clothing lines. The vast Victorian warehouse housed knitwear machines producing Burberry jumpers and huge banks of the best equipment. We soon manufactured for the cream of the country style clothing retailers. Disaster struck in 2001 with the arrival of Foot and Mouth, and with distribution drying up due to closing stores and cancelled shopping events, Beaver of Bolton went into receivership.  It was at this stage that I managed to buy the bare bones of the equipment and business and set up again. Fortunately we won work with some of the finest British brands and we were back in action.
We have had a very tough few months with Covid-19, how have you managed?
We are very happy to have clients like TROY who remained positive throughout the months of lockdown. As you know we have an older workforce of skilled seamstresses and pattern cutters, many of whom have health issues, so we have had to vastly reconfigure the factory. We realised we had to be proactive and flexible to how things pan out. We are focusing more on our specialism of outerwear and hope we will be able to move back to full capacity soon.
Do you worry that there is not enough interest from the younger generation to support the British fashion industry?
This is a concern. I am not sure that they have the commitment and dedication to learn the skills required. That is not an immediate given, but a process. I am happy to say that we do what we can and currently have a 20 year old pattern cutter who has come through from an apprenticeship position and this lockdown has given us more time to train.
You love to work with tweed, and your creations have been worn by Madonna through to the Duchess of Cambridge. What is the appeal of this wonderfully British fabric?
 Scottish tweed is almost all finished in Yorkshire, there is something about the water here. Proper tweed is special as you can wear it through all weather and throw it in the back of the car, and somehow it always looks smart.
We heard that you once got banned from facebook for supporting British manufacturing – will you tell us that story?
I cant go into too many details but suffice to say I get quite opinionated about those to purport to champion British manufacturing in fashion, when they are clearly not the real deal.
What do you feel about Britain’s exit from the European Union and how it will shape the future of Britain?
I like to think of it as going to a new school; it will be scary but we will adapt and get along. We will be stronger, one way or another. Fortunately we feel that European support is there for quality, British-made fashion.
How would you define your personal style… is it true you are a punk at heart?
Most definitely… we don’t all have to have a mohawk! I love to wear tartans and tweed and don’t like to be part of the crowd. It is good to stand out.
What do you think makes TROY’s designs desirable?
The aspirational aspect, we see how much people want these designs, and the quality. It is fantastic that the look is backed up with quality and performance.
If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be?
I think I would be doing charity abroad, digging wells or something! Or in another life it would have been in music – I have a passion for live performances, the people and ultimately the communities that surround it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Always look for the positive, even in the darkest hours.
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