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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Elements Rainwear Factory Tour

Ruby Raincoat
As much as I love travelling, I am also always very happy to return home. I am rather proud of my hometown Northampton. Like most places, people are happy to focus on all the negatives, but I am so impressed with the amount of beautiful stuff that is produced and created here. So while browsing through instagram one day I came across a little page, full of stunning raincoats that reminded me of one of my favourite films Singing in The Rain. To my delight, while at London Edge last year I got to meet Tasha from the Elements team and see the beautiful rainwear in person. I found out these raincoats were made in my hometown and before you know it, we had planned to collaborate on a blog post together, with me getting to have a tour of the factory and I couldn't wait to see how these beautiful pieces came to life.

Thank you Tanya for the Photo in the Romantica Raincoat
Elements Rainwear is a British based fashionable rainwear company, using traditional methods of production to ensure great quality and high standard products. Working from old patterns and using old machines that were originally used in the Marks Bros of Ardwick Factory, this company have captured the magic and romance from a time when fashion was a fine art in itself.

PVC has been used in fashion since its invention, the material was nearly abandoned during the recession in the 1920s but the idea of PVC as water resistant coating for fabrics and the difficulty sourcing rubber during the second world war meant the demand quickly accelerated. From this 1950s onwards more and more raincoats made from PVC were produced, and here we are, with this wonderful company ensuring we can still acquire these beautiful pieces.

Arriving at the factory I first came across the beautiful Tanya Secret Plus size Goddess, another blogger who would be taking the tour with me. I was very excited to hear we would both be doing this, as having worked with Tanya a few times before, I knew we always had such fun together. Walking in together we were welcomed by Tasha and the boss Gary. We were all introduced, offered drinks and made comfortable before our tour was to start.

Walking into the factory was like walking into a wonderland, colours and garments everywhere, unusual machines and lots of people working through their tasks with such speed and efficiency you would think they had always done it. Gary showed us a rail of patterns, mostly from the 1950's that were still used today, he talked us through how they are used and adapted to suit different styles and customer feedback. Most of the Element raincoats are handmade (apart from a small simpler selection that are offered ready made and for those looking to spend a little less) and as we walked on to the next section we could see some of the material being hand cut ready to be put together.

Next we were shown some of the many colours and patterns of the PVC and TPU materials. Gary explained to us the difference between the materials, how they affected the look of the patterns and how the process of ordering them worked.

TPU is a lot stronger than PVC, and for those who are worried about Phthalates (a product used to soften PVC, that some believe is bad for the environment, though this has not been proven after many years of testing) TPU does not need this. Where PVC falls a lot quicker, the TPU holds its structure more, though this also means it is difficult to work with.

PVC and TPU was produced in the UK right up until the 90's, when unfortunately the remaining two manufactures also shut down. Now the material has to be ordered from China, where the minimum order is a tonne. Elements offer 50 colours, meaning this is by no means a cheap business.

Moving on we were introduced to the machines, there were many, and each one had a task of its own. There are machines set up to make pockets, ruffles, button holes, to add bindings, to join elastic together, one for each different stitches and some to wield. They each have such important parts in the creating of each coat.

Being an organically grown business, Gary told us the story of how the machines used had mostly been brought from Mclaren Pushchair Factory and the Marks Bros of Ardwick Factory (who made raincoats for Marks and Spencers and Woolworths) and how the business has been running as Elements since 1996 where they started in a little farm unit in Towchester.

Now if I can explain this correctly, the machines are high frequency, this means that the machine sends a frequency through the PVC and it's so intense that the molecules of the PVC vibrate and they rejoin together, giving you a split second to remould them.

Though this machinery is what holds it all together (pun intended) the worry with it being so old is that RF engineers (Radio Frequency engineers) are few and far between. With there only being a couple left in the UK Gary who has an engineering background has had to learn to fix the machines himself, but if these issues were beyond this, he would need to call one of these out, which can prove very costly. Once these engineers retire could these machines have to retire too. Luckily with Garys knowledge and having already withstood this long in time, we can hope they have many years ahead of them yet.

When an Element Raincoats is ordered it can be constructed for the persons personal preferences, you can have pockets, collars, buttons or zips (depending on style), it is then quality checked to meet elements high standards, to make sure you have a raincoat that could last you a life time. Once satisfied the product is beautifully packaged in delicate tissue paper, with a detailed flyer and some sweets to add that personal touch.

To finish the tour we were shown down stairs, where the stock was kept, such as the ready made raincoats made in their factory in China, a huge amount of rolls of material and sadly all of the off cuts that can't be used (these however are collected by a local company in Leicester that mix them together to make wheelie bins). We then walk through the packaging area, where all orders were being fulfilled and wrapped, and then at the back we find their very own studio. A room full with lots of colourful raincoats, and lots of different designs and set up with different backgrounds to photograph them.
We are set free to try them on and have a lovely time dancing around in them. I fell in love with the clear polka dot Romantica but told Gary I wished it would come in a little more on my waist, like magic he told me he had had this feed back from some fellow vintage dress loving ladies and so had recently designed the new Ruby Raincoats. This didn't have as full a skirt but fit perfectly on my waist. This was the raincoat I needed in my life, it fit like a dream and complemented my gingham dress underneath. I was made even happier when Gary told us we could keep our raincoats. Tanya and I quickly made plans to have a photoshoot together in them.

Picture from photoshoot with Fotopositief Photography
I can not tell you how much I enjoyed this tour, there was so much to see and learn and I found every part of it so interesting. It was a pleasure to meet the team and to see how much passion they, and Gary had for the company they had grown.

Thank you to Elements Rainwear for having us and do check out their products, they stock sizes from 8 to 22 and are priced from £50. If you have any questions their team are very helpful and you can reach them on their website, Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you for reading my post. Have you views the Element rainwear website before, and what is your favourite raincoat design? What do you think about the process that goes into making them and what surprised you the most?

Thank you also to Gary for my Ruby Raincoat, I absolutely love it and will be reviewing it in a future post. So pop back again soon.

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