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Business News

Underwear factory goes bust despite a helping hand from Mary Portas


An underwear factory championed by Mary Portas, the retail guru and government advisor, has gone bust – in a blow to her attempts to revive UK manufacturing.

Bosses at Headen and Quarmby called in administrators on Wednesday morning and told staff they would not be needed. All 33 members of staff are owed pay, but administrators BDO were last night unable to say when they would receive their salaries.

Workers were left furious and took to Facebook to voice their anger at Ms Portas, who used the factory in her hit Channel 4 TV series Mary’s Bottom Line.

In the series, the retail expert attempted to revive the UK’s manufacturing credentials by taking over part of the Headen and Quarmby factory in Middleton, Greater Manchester, and launch an underwear range called Kinky Knickers, employing several apprentices in the process.

One apprentice, Emma-Claire Hartley, who appeared in the original programme, said: “After the cameras left her support towards us went with them.”

Another worker, Michelle Law, said: “We worked our last week for nothing so there are a lot of angry employees wondering how to feed our kids or pay our rent. We feel abandoned by Mary and her team. To be honest things were slipping a long time ago.”

Initially, sales of the underwear went well and it was stocked in Boots, House of Fraser and through online outlets. However, some complained of the high price and the quality.

Ms Portas, who earned £500,000 from her deal with Channel 4, said: “Right up until this announcement, H&Q were telling me of their ambitious plans for our brand and the others they manufacture under licence as well as plans they had for their own ranges. It’s so sad that the problems have been caused by cash-flow shortfalls due to bad debts arising from some smaller retailers going bust over Christmas and a large retailer cancelling an order.”

Kerry Bailey, at administrators BDO, said: “We are doing everything we can to try to secure a future for the business, and we are hopeful of securing a sale.” Ms Portas did not own the factory, but had a close relationship with the management and was keen to champion it.

The collapse is likely to be embarrassing for her, because she was asked by the Government to write a report into plans for regenerating the high street.

She has previously faced criticism for using the television series as a showcase for her career.