Saving for a rainy day: Jim White follows the Japanese tourists to a warehouse full of Burberry bargains

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The Independent Online
Unless you know where to look, a design classic can be a pricey item. At the Burberry shop in Knightsbridge, for instance, one of those stone-coloured trench coats, the rainwear favoured by the wealthy and successful across the globe for half a century, can be yours for anything from pounds 295 to more than pounds 500, depending on size. It is money well spent, the wearer will tell you, for the quality of the tailoring, the weatherproofing and the distinctiveness of that brown-and-beige tartan lining.

Yet, in a corner of east London, in the middle of a shabby trading estate between two high-rise housing blocks, almost the same item, crisp from the factory, goes for pounds 99.95.

Like the products it manufactures, the Burberry factory is a solid, well-built, slightly old-fashioned-looking place, tucked down a side street in Hackney, opposite a Victorian school where Mr Gradgrind might have done his teaching practice. There is no illuminated sign, just a postcard on a door, with the word 'Shop' printed on it. To find it, just follow the Japanese tourists who alight here excitedly regularly from minibuses chartered by the big West End hotels. They will lead the way up a bleak flight of stairs, then past a jolly security guard and into a warehouse filled with everything Burberry: checked golf bags, moon boots with checked outers, jars of exotic foodstuffs with checked lid, and row upon row of beige coats with checked linings.

On a typical afternoon in the week before Christmas, the place looked as if it had suffered a visit by locusts. Everywhere there were Japanese, Italian and French people pulling jumpers out of polythene bags, tugging blousons off racks, grabbing trench coats only to abandon them in the scarf section when they discovered they didn't fit.

These are seconds, unplanned and unforeseen, so the shrewd bargain hunter makes regular visits to the shop to see what is in stock. The savings repay any visit - women's wool overcoats for pounds 69.95, silk headscarves for pounds 19. Everything is marginally damaged, though it would take a quality control inspector with a magnifying glass to spot the flaws. A sweet-fitting leather jacket at pounds 99.95, for instance, was identifiable as a second to the untrained eye only because the Burberry name was scrawled through with black felt-tip. And it would have taken a health and safety pedant to spot the tiny bumps and dents in the tins of Kenyan coffee, whose price had been almost halved.

In the past, the joys of the Burberry shop were restricted to deserving causes; you had to be a firefighter or a nurse to qualify for a bargain. Now anyone can go, although, as in most things, it is the Japanese who have got in first.

One day we will catch up with them.

Burberry Factory Shop, Chatham Place, London E9. Open 12.30-6pm daily; 9.30am-3.30pm Saturday.

(Photograph omitted)

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