‘Is this what people wear now?’ Sewing Bee host criticises M&S jumpers and socks

<span>‘Fashion is now a $3tn industry that’s mostly just pumping out absolute crap at a tiny price’: Patrick Grant, host of the The Great British Sewing Bee.</span><span>Photograph: James Stack/BBC/Love Productions</span>
‘Fashion is now a $3tn industry that’s mostly just pumping out absolute crap at a tiny price’: Patrick Grant, host of the The Great British Sewing Bee.Photograph: James Stack/BBC/Love Productions

While filming The Great British Sewing Bee, the presenter and clothing entrepreneur Patrick Grant found himself in need of a pair of black socks.

The production team bought a pair from the Marks & Spencer shop close to where the popular BBC show was being filmed. Grant said: “They went to everybody’s favourite high street store, that used to sell on the basis of quality and value, and they bought me their Autograph socks, which are supposed to be their best socks.

“And I put these socks on, I was like … Is this what people wear on their feet now? They felt like tights. They were thin and sort of synthetic-y and flabby and bloody horrible.”

He added: “The jumpers that I bought from Marks & Spencer in the 80s, I’ve still got some of them. They’re brilliant. And the jumpers that you buy now, that are £30 from Marks & Spencer, they’re total shit. They’re not the same thing.”

M&S experienced a resurgence in profits last year, regaining its spot as top UK womenswear retailer for the first time in four years. Sales of women’s party­wear were up 49%, and knitwear sales rose 23% in October 2023 compared with the same month the previous year; the retailer’s more on-trend and fashion-forward collections are credited with prompting the turnaround. M&S has also appointed a new head of menswear design, who will take up his post in June.

But the criticism from Grant, who runs the textile manufacturers Cookson & Clegg and the Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons, as well as being a judge on the hit BBC One show, will sting. A spokesperson for the retailer said: “At M&S, our clothing is made well and made to last, using materials that have been sourced with care: that’s why we lead the way when it comes to both quality and value customer perceptions.”

Grant, who was speaking at an event to promote his new book, Less: Stop Buying So Much Rubbish, did not limit his criticisms to M&S. “This is what’s happened in clothing, in footwear, in the homes that we live in. Our homes are built with shit, because people can make more money.

“Does that make our lives any ­better? Does it bollocks. Clothes haven’t got cheaper, they’ve just got worse. In the process, we’ve binned five and a half million jobs making these things well, and it’s absolutely killed communities.”

The 52-year-old understands that the cost of living crisis has made cheap clothing an even more attractive proposition for many people. Speaking at Waterstones bookshop in Leeds, he said: “It’s a challenge to say to someone: you need to buy a more expensive item that will make you feel better. It’s really difficult … because lots and lots of people right now are really hard up.”

But he added: “The sad thing is: the cheaper the clothing that we buy, the more likely the money is to bypass anyone that you would consider nice and end up in the pockets of somebody you would consider to be a bastard.”

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Grant said veteran designers such as his fellow Great British Sewing Bee judge Esme Young would struggle if they were starting out today in the UK, against a backdrop of fast fashion. “Fashion is now a $3tn industry that’s mostly just pumping out absolute crap at a tiny price, and they don’t stand a chance,” he said, adding that companies such as the fast-fashion retailer Shein, which sells thousands of designs for just a few pounds, had “swamped and killed the opportunity for creativity and craftsmanship to thrive in the way that it used to in the 1960s”.

“Esme could not have done today what she did then,” said Grant. “Arguably, Vivienne Westwood couldn’t, Alexander McQueen would have probably found it hard.

“If people are paying £2.50 for a piece of clothing, what chance does somebody have who’s trying to craft something incredible and spend six months not just ripping other ­people off, but reading and thinking and being a cultural bellwether and absorbing what the heck is happening in the world and reflecting that back?

“That’s what fashion can do, but it almost doesn’t stand a chance because of the wave of crap that’s just sort of drowned it.”