Mill’ing it over: Burberry’s fashion mill of the future

Posted on 3 Jun 2019 by Maddy White

Burberry has come a long way since it was founded 163 years ago. During his keynote at Make it British Live, senior production manager at Burberry, Hareesh Kallambella explains what we need to know about the fashion mill of the future.

Burberry is known for its plaid pattern - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Burberry is known for its plaid pattern – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

When 21-year-old Thomas Burberry opened his own fashion store in Basingstoke, England, in 1856 he could never have known the successes to follow.

Fast-forward to Burberry today, and the fashion powerhouse had sales of £2.7bn in 2018. It has become famous across the globe for its gaberdine trench coats and iconic check pattern.

The gabardine fabric was invented in 1879 by Thomas Burberry. It is a hardwearing, water-resistant yet breathable fabric, in which the yarn is waterproofed before weaving.

“Guess what, we are making it [gaberdine material] exactly the same as we did back then,” Hareesh Kallambella, senior production manager at Burberry Mill said in his keynote at Make it British Live.

Mill’ing it over

Burberry has an 800-strong workforce at two separate sites in Yorkshire; Castleford and Keighley.

The Keighley site is home to the historic Burberry mill, which dates from the 1880s. The gabardine and tropical gabardine fabrics are dyed and woven at the mill.

The brand’s iconic trench coat is handmade in the Castleford factory and to make the coats, over 100 individual processes are used.

Fashion’s tech fix

Despite the mill being almost 140 years old, it is a “fully connected factory” according to Kallambella. There is a high level of automation in the mill, and this technology “empowers” people, he says.

A robotic arm works to keep the yarns perfect, searching for faults, and monitoring and fixing them where possible. When a flaw is detected and it cannot be fixed by the cobot, the nearest operator is called via a wearable device.

The research projects taking at Factory 2050 produce real-world answers to today’s manufacturing problems – image courtesy of AMRC.
Factory 2050 is a project at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) – image courtesy of the AMRC.

To further utilise technology, the business used Factory 2050 in Sheffield to laser scan the entire mill to optimise space for machines and improve their process.

Factory 2050 is a facility which provides and helps businesses develop real-world answers to some of their manufacturing problems. 

He explains that Burberry also has plans in place to use AI, which are currently in proof of concept stages. This is to find the optimum balance between quality and delivery.

But despite this technology, people are still Burberry’s biggest asset. The British firm has invested in “diverse skills”. He adds: “We want to make weaving exciting.”