The Northern English region of Yorkshire, famous for its pudding and terriers, is also the unassuming home of one of the most important historical events in world history: the Industrial Revolution. Textile factories sprung up there which ultimately led to industrial factory production on a mass scale for all sorts of commodities. So it’s no surprise to hear that some of the best English underwear is still being made in the area. What might be surprising is the fact that it’s about the only thing left being made at all.
Bum-Chum’s founders, Gareth Dickenson and Craig Hendry, decided to slip into the men’s underwear business over a pint of beer, after leading careers in other fields. What they found, however, was that if they wanted to produce the underwear themselves in the UK, they would basically have to rebuild the entire supply chain from scratch. Even though Yorkshire had mills on every street corner up until the 1970s, by 2009 when Dickenson and Hendry decided to produce a UK-made underwear brand, there was almost nothing left of the historic textile industry.
“We started making underwear as Christmas presents for friends, just something different for Christmas,” said Dickenson. “Lots of people decided they liked them, and kept asking for more. They would tell us, “you should sell them.” “We knew that between the two of us, we could create something really interesting — a really fun brand. We were both pretty aware that the textile industry had dried to a slow trickle, and that it would be a fairly hard thing to do. It sounded like a big challenge. Over a pint, [we] decided to get Bum-Chums up and running. That’s when we discovered how decimated the industry was.”
It was a painstaking process, but ultimately, they succeeded in stitching together a supply chain of UK-based manufacturers, none more than 30 miles away from the Bum-Chums factory. There to help them in the early stages was a woman the guys called their “Mother Superior of Quality” Lynne Boulton, the daughter of a sewing machine engineer and someone with a passion for sewing machines old and new, and textile manufacturing in general (she has quite a selection of antique sewing machines on display at her home). She let them sew the first examples of what was to become the Bum-Chums design.
“What we had originally planned was that the first thing we designed and made had to fit as well as possible,” said Craig. “It’s not an exact science, but it’s got to fit around everything. That’s the wonderful thing about stretch underwear: they mold themselves, they give and they fit. We wanted to enhance men’s attributes without resorting to false means, but through cut and fit. It should be comfortable and natural. Nobody should be trussed up like a Christmas turkey. Whatever we made would have to fit and accentuate their natural gifts — without puppetry.”
“Why shouldn’t we be manufacturing in Britain?” asked Gareth. “There are clear benefits in terms of quality control. Unless you have your stuff made in vast, vast quantities you can afford to pay someone to oversee quality. Obviously you can’t afford to do that when you’re a smaller brand. Because our production is all local, we have control over quality and can deal with problems very quickly.”
“Another benefit that we saw is a remarkable capacity to be responsive to trends in the market,” adds Hendry. “The ‘Sneak peek’ line came from literally just ourselves trying them on in front of the girls on the production line. Within four hours, we had organized the pattern, and the next day we went into production.”
Bum-Chums saves money on its advertising budget, too — they’ve filmed videos on the factory floor, offering a stylized vision of what the shop floor experience is actually like. The women who operate the sewing machines are seen being catered to by boys wearing only the Bum-Chums briefs, serving the ladies tea and pushing baskets of fabric around. “We wanted to give the brand a certain personality and make the product as personal as possible,” explains Gareth. “We have a real fun bunch of people working in the factory. They all wanted some screen time — also to pinch the models’ bum!”
Who wouldn’t want to work in a factory like that? You can peep the cheeky video below, and be thankful that Bum-Chums has figured out how to turn a former industrial wasteland into an Industrial Renaissance.