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Leicester’s fast fashion to die for: cramped ragtrade workshops in the pariah city

How to make a profit on a £ 5 party dress, £ 6 miniskirt or £ 3 bikini top if you’re a fashion house or online store?

You have them made in Leicester – near St Saviors Road to be precise – where there are about 1,000 garment factories.

Some are hidden in terraced houses and garages, but other companies proudly display the name of their company outside in bright letters.

Imtiaz, who works as a packer, is among the 35 employees of a particular factory – who supplies the online brand Boohoo.

Ragtrade workshops in Leicester are used to produce incredibly cheap clothes for online retailers. Pictured: workers in Fazia fashion factory in Leicester continue to work despite re-imposed lock

Ragtrade workshops in Leicester are used to produce incredibly cheap clothes for online retailers. Pictured: workers in Fazia fashion factory in Leicester continue to work despite re-imposed lock

Factories near St Saviors Road in Leicester pay staff just £ 4 an hour to make a profit on cheap clothes supplied to online retailers, including Boohoo. Pictured: A £ 5 party dress sold by Boohoo, advertised as 'perfect for the day-to-game transition'

Factories near St Saviors Road in Leicester pay staff just £ 4 an hour to make a profit on cheap clothes supplied to online retailers, including Boohoo. Pictured: A £ 5 party dress sold by Boohoo, advertised as 'perfect for the day-to-game transition'

Factories near St Saviors Road in Leicester pay staff just £ 4 an hour to make a profit on cheap clothes supplied to online retailers, including Boohoo. Pictured: A £ 5 party dress sold by Boohoo, advertised as ‘perfect for the day-to-game transition’

Imtiaz, 39, works from 8am to 9pm and tells me he’s only paid £ 4 an hour, despite Britain’s minimum wage for those over 25 from £ 8.72.

Hence perhaps why this corner of the Midlands – closed again this week due to a spike in business – has become a production hub for some popular low-price brands.

Is there a place outside of the sweatshops of the Far East where clothes can be produced cheaper? Doubtful.

Imtiaz arrived on a tourist visa from Gujarat, India over 20 years ago, and has not left the UK since.

He said, “Some workers feel unwell, but are too scared not to come to work or lose their jobs. I had some symptoms but didn’t want to tell the boss because they don’t like it when we don’t show up for work. ‘

Imtiaz is not alone. A female machinist at another factory, Faiza Fashion, spoke to the Mail this week and gave a horrifying picture of life in these locations.

The mother of three in her 50s, whom we have not mentioned, said, “Three weeks ago I was not feeling well and there were others who also had flu-like symptoms. But what can you do then? We are not rich people and need money to survive. ‘

She also said that they are not factory-fitted with face masks or gloves.

Many will be surprised to learn that Faiza Fashion is still open, like most clothing factories in Leicester, despite the local closure.

The company also supplies Boohoo, Britain’s fastest-growing online fashion store, which, by the way, advertises its £ 5 dress at closing as ‘perfect for the day-to-game transition’.

A female operator in another factory, Faiza Fashion, spoke to the Mail this week and gave a chilling picture of life in these sites

A female operator in another factory, Faiza Fashion, spoke to the Mail this week and gave a chilling picture of life in these sites

A female operator in another factory, Faiza Fashion, spoke to the Mail this week and gave a chilling picture of life in these sites

Government guidelines may require non-essential stores to be closed, but factories are not subject to the same measures as long as they follow social distance rules and protocols, including wearing face masks and providing disinfectants.

Our investigation shows that a number of such establishments do not comply with these rules. Yet they remain open.

Imtiaz, who has not given his surname, embodies the demographics that, according to North West Leicestershire Member of Parliament, Andrew Bridgen, created the “perfect storm” for the virus.

In an interview with LBC this week, the MP said, “We have a much larger Indian subcontinent population in Leicester, they are mostly multi-generational households.

“So you have young people who go out, maybe come home with no symptoms and grandma and grandpa go to the hospital.

“We also have a clothing industry in Leicester that should have closed, but that has worked for internet retailers everywhere.”

The lockdown boundary map around Leicester enforced following a spike in coronavirus cases

The lockdown boundary map around Leicester enforced following a spike in coronavirus cases

The lockdown boundary map around Leicester enforced following a spike in coronavirus cases

Could it be a coincidence that the area at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak is on the east side of the city, where most of the garment factories are located?

Such clothing companies have become known locally as ‘dark factories’, echoing the ‘dark satanic mills’ of William Blake’s famous verse describing the exploitative practices of the industrial revolution.

The terms are an open secret, or rather, Leicester’s ‘dirty secret’ and were investigated by Channel 4’s Dispatches in 2017.

They found that factories that made clothes for River Island, New Look, Boohoo, and Missguided workers paid for just £ 3 an hour in conditions that didn’t meet health and safety standards.

And an investigation by Parliament’s Human Rights Commission three years ago found that between a third and three quarters of workers in these factories were paid below the minimum wage and worked in an unsafe environment.

Asim Ali, 34, manager of Fazia Fashion, which is located in a closed area, said: “We have not received any instructions from the government or local authorities on whether we should close or stay open. But to be honest, we lost so much money during the first lockdown that we can’t afford to close ‘

Most are from minority ethnic groups, with about 33.6 percent born outside the UK.

But not so long ago, Leicester had a regulated textile industry that was both a source of pride and prosperity – enjoying the pride of being the ‘city that clothes the world’.

By the early 2000s, orders were moving across the globe. The demand for ‘fast fashion’ – low wages and low prices – reversed this trend. Speed ​​was the USP, which meant sourcing close to home.

Faiza Fashion is just one of the companies that supplies Boohoo and sister brand PrettyLittleThing, said manager Asim Ali. But it doesn’t go directly with Boohoo or PLT, because the work is outsourced to them.

The Labor Behind the Label charity has accused Boohoo of not doing enough to monitor conditions at factories in Leicester.

The retailer said it would investigate the claims, but insisted it had followed and adhered to all aspects of it [Government] guidance’.

Boohoo was founded in 2006 by Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane and the company is now worth over £ 3 billion.

Some retailers have cut ties with suppliers in the area for fear of being accused of making big profits on the back of workers like Imtiaz. A few blocks away from Faiza Fashion is Glory Fashion.

Owner Sajid Patel is renting out the property and he believes ‘about 80 or 90 percent’ of the garment factories are currently open and not all of them met the lock requirements.

We also tried Cute Girl, which specializes in making clothes for young women.

The boss Richu Uppal, who lives in a £ 500,000 detached house on the outskirts of Leicester and drives a £ 20,000 Mercedes A class, was not available to be interviewed.

Quiet streets in central Leicester following the introduction of a local shutdown on Monday following a spike in coronavirus cases

Quiet streets in central Leicester following the introduction of a local shutdown on Monday following a spike in coronavirus cases

Quiet streets in central Leicester following the introduction of a local shutdown on Monday following a spike in coronavirus cases

As the rest of Britain prepares for reopening, the city of Leicester has become a ghost town as authorities imposed a local shutdown following a spike in cornavirus cases

As the rest of Britain prepares for reopening, the city of Leicester has become a ghost town as authorities imposed a local shutdown following a spike in cornavirus cases

As the rest of Britain prepares for reopening, the city of Leicester has become a ghost town as authorities imposed a local shutdown following a spike in cornavirus cases

But a family spokesman said, “We are open because everyone is open. We are closed four weeks after the first shutdown in March, but no one has said factories should close now. He added, “There is no clear guidance.”

Not only members of the Asian community work in these factories. Bulgarians also make up a large part of the workforce.

Take Donka, 29, who earns £ 4 an hour as a packer in a number of apparel factories. She also asks us not to reveal her last name while telling a familiar story.

She said, “This is the busiest I’ve ever known. The work is very heavy and there is hardly any ventilation inside. Even when people are sick, they still go to work because they need the money. ‘

Mick Cheema, owner of an ethical clothing brand in the city called Basic Premier, said, “There is a history of unethical factories in the city. Much has been reported, but no action has been taken by central or local government and it has become the norm. ‘

His views are consistent with the findings of a report published this week by Labor Behind the Label.

It said an employee told his employer that he tested positive for Covid-19, but was told to come in anyway and not tell his colleagues about the test result.

Is it any wonder, then, that the virus is on the rise in this once proud city?

It is unbelievable how this – and other abuses identified today – could happen in 21st-century Britain.

  • Additional reporting: Vivek Chaudhary and Richard Marsden

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