The new 42,000 sq ft of factory space is located in leafy Highams Park, one train stop from the old factory but a world away in terms of modern design, state-of-the-art technology and manufacturing style. And while the old factory had plenty of history and charm its leaking roof and challenging layout proved difficult for the skilled artisan workforce.
Creative Director Tanya Reynolds said: “We wanted to keep the quirky eccentricity of our heritage and the strong connection to our artisan craft based practices, but bring ourselves right up to date with the best technology and working techniques within our industry. poportion>london is evolving into a strong and modern company and we needed new space in which to flourish.”
The new streamlined factory houses design and manufacturing facilities for fiberglass, papier-mache and wax mannequins and bustforms, together with tailoring facilities, prototype laboratories and the creative team. Proud of its heritage but wanting to modernise both its management techniques and working practices, the new management team of Mark Henderson (Gieves & Hawkes, The New Craftsmen), Antonia D’Marco and Reynolds, recruited process consultants Exelin to advise on space planning and production strategy.
“Between us, Antonia and I have over 50 years of experience in the mannequin business but we wanted a new way of ‘seeing’ in order to embrace the future,” said Reynolds.
For starters, proportion>london has ensured the creative process, particularly in its experimental early stages, is on full show, by constructing a glass wall between the visitors meeting room and design studio. Clients can see prototypes being constructed, new finishes showcased and even live sculpting happening in the long gallery space where the creative team work.
The daylight filled studio has a modern laboratory feel to it, with mobile workstations that move to support each project under construction. Craft technicians in white overalls use the purpose built space to view prototype mannequin shapes from all angles and ensure perfect balance and form. This ‘room to breathe’ in artistic terms helps to strengthen the team’s strong creative edge and stay ahead of the competition.
Logical flow of process is another time-saving benefit of the new factory, which allows each area of manufacture and development to flow organically and efficiently across the factory floor. Both the physical and the creative journey have been accommodated.
One clear winner was the papier-mache process, with the construction of a new mache suite, with mould lamination, lining, baking and finishing happening in a linear progression of internalised rooms, saving space and time. Sharing of creative expertise has also been considered, by placing the Special Projects workshop, where you might find development work ranging from new mannequin shapes for luxury design houses, through to work on a museum installation or film props, next to the development studio, allowing the creative team to consult and share comment on development projects as they unfold.
Investment in advanced technology systems will ensure the company has the edge in terms of speed and quality. Four gleaming white, space-age spray pods house the most advanced spray and bake facilities for super-fast batch finishing of mannequins, touch dry in a breathtakingly short four minutes, with exceptional quality of finish and no environmental contamination.
Giant sealing-screen doors keep areas environmentally and temperature controlled, with a modern extraction system that ensures areas such as mould-making are kept pristinely clean from dust particles, which can ruin a mould finish.
The unique skills of the individual craftspeople have also been accommodated, with each team contributing to the design of their own bespoke workspaces, with every essential material and tool positioned to improve productivity. From custom made tailor’s benches with perfect-height fabric rollers, to curated shelving for the packing area, to the customised machinery to keep the mould clay at the perfect temperature, the new space was truly a team effort.
Mark Bushrod of Exelin has helped the management team construct a Lean Management strategy (used at Lexus cars among others), to bring harmonious and continuous improvement to working conditions. The new factory has not only facilitated better working practice, it has also invigorated the management team intellectually, enabling them to discard out of date practices and introduce streamlined modern ones.
A new Operations Manager, Craig Frost joined to both oversee the move from old to new factory and manage the day to day running of the site. He brings with him expertise from the manufacture of luxury yachts.
The new home is just one more dynamic step for the company, which also sees an exciting new showroom space for clients open in London’s Shoreditch early this autumn. Chairman Mark Henderson, already an experienced hand in modernising British craft based institutions at Gieves & Hawkes and The New Craftsmen Gallery, is clear the future is bright. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have found such a perfect home for proportion>london. Here we can grow, strengthen our skill sets, develop new concepts and techniques and deliver a first rate product quickly and efficiently. This is British creativity and making at its best. We have a worldwide opportunity with proportion>london and this new home will play a key part in that.”