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Jobs blow for Suffolk town as silk factory plunges into administration

PUBLISHED: 12:42 12 November 2020 | UPDATED: 14:42 12 November 2020

Vanners has lost half its workforce after falling into administration  Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Vanners has lost half its workforce after falling into administration Picture: PHIL MORLEY

A total of 32 workers at a celebrated Suffolk silk brand have lost their jobs after the business collapsed into administration.

Administrators are seeking a buyer for all or part of Vanners  Picture: PHIL MORLEYAdministrators are seeking a buyer for all or part of Vanners Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Administrators have been appointed to Silk Industries Limited – trading as Vanners — after difficulties exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis proved insurmountable.

Of the 64-strong workforce at the company, 32 have been made redundant and the remainder kept on while a buyer is sought.

MORE — Historic silk makers Vanners unveils plans for multi-million pound move

The company designs, develops and manufactures silk fabrics and products for the luxury menswear, fashion and furnishing markets and in December last year the £5m to £6m turnover firm was looking forward to a multimillion pound move from Gregory Mills to purpose-built premises, with the location still to be finalised along with its then 80-strong workforce.

High-profile wearers of its silk have included singer Adele and former First Lady in the US, Michelle Obama.

Former first lady, Michelle Obama has worn Vanners silks  Picture: REUTERS/LARRY DOWNINGFormer first lady, Michelle Obama has worn Vanners silks Picture: REUTERS/LARRY DOWNING

The aim of the proposed site move was to ensure that the business continued to be at the cutting edge of textile dyeing, weaving, design and luxury production.

But the business hit difficulties, and on Monday, November 9, 2020, James Lumb and Chris Pole from KPMG’s Restructuring practice were appointed joint administrators.

The firm was originally set up by exiled French Huguenots in the late 1800s, and has been owned by company chairman David Tooth for the past 40 years. He is in his 70s and retired from day-to-day management a few years ago.

Mr Tooth said the collapse of the company was “disappointing and saddening”, but he paid tribute to his workforce, saying it was “a huge team effort, and always has been”.

David Tooth, who has owned the company for the past 40 years, is contacting all staff made redundant individually to talk to them  Picture: PHIL MORLEYDavid Tooth, who has owned the company for the past 40 years, is contacting all staff made redundant individually to talk to them Picture: PHIL MORLEY

“I pay tribute to all those many hundreds of local people who have worked together for the company during its long time here. We spend a high proportion of our lives at work, and so it’s important that it’s enjoyable, sociable and rewarding. Vanners has been a significant employer in Sudbury and a creative, dynamic environment for all of us who have worked there,” he said.

The company suffered two huge blows, he said, with the loss of about 70% of its business. The closure of airport shopping meant that work for companies such as Burberry and Prada dried up, and in the summer, Vanners’ biggest customer — high-end men’s outfitters Brooks Brothers of New York — went into administration.

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The collapse of the company is a big blow too for the town which prides itself on its silk-making heritage.

Last year it celebrated the sector with a silk festival highlighting the role of Vanners and of other separate silk firms in the town such as Stephen Walters & Sons dating back to 1780, and Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company established in 1903, and Gainsborough’s House.

KPMG said that “regrettably” following its appointment, 32 staff were made redundant and 32 retained to assist administrators as they continue to fulfil orders while they seek a buyer for the business and its assets.

Babergh District Council cabinet member for economic growth Michael Holt said: “Vanners has been an integral part of the history and heritage of Sudbury’s silk industry for many generations and the administration announcement is a significant blow to Sudbury and the district.

“Our teams are working with Vanners, the DWP and other local partners to support those employees who have been made redundant with advice on how to access financial support and other employment opportunities. We are also working with the management team to provide any support we can to identify and connect with potential buyers.”

James Lumb, joint administrator and director at KPMG, said Vanners had been experiencing difficult trading conditions for some time, which was exacerbated by the severe impact of Covid-19 on the fashion sector.

“After an exploration of additional investment options proved unsuccessful, the directors took the difficult decision to place the company into administration.

“We intend to fulfil outstanding orders while we seek a buyer for the business, and would encourage any parties who may be interested to contact us as soon as possible.

“We will also be providing support to those members of staff who have been made redundant, assisting them in making claims to the Redundancy Payments Office.”

Interested parties are invited to contact Azaad Marso at KPMG on 07920 700061.


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