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Seams like yesterday as industry returns
6:00am Thursday 22nd May 2014 in Business
NEW BUSINESS: Paul Watts and Julie Price at AMA's factory in Peterlee, east Durham. Picture: Andy Lamb
WHEN Claremont Garments closed its doors in the North-East, it was seen by many as a death knell for the region's clothes making industry.
But from those ashes, a renaissance is emerging.
The AMA Group, in Peterlee, east Durham, yesterday officially started work on products as it plots to put the North-East's clothing heritage back on the map.
It has created an initial 20 jobs, and bosses, who include former Claremont Garments' directors Paul Watts and David and Julie Price, hope to employ more than 150 staff by next year.
The new venture has already captured the attention of one high street retailer, with bosses in negotiations to secure further work.
It has received the backing of Lord Alliance, the former chairman of Coats Viyella and current non-executive director of N Brown, which operates the Andrew Flintoff-inspired Jacamo brand.
Bosses have also visited Italy to assess specialist bonding techniques, which they will adopt at Peterlee as they aim to set their work apart from rivals.
Its presence in the region is a major boost to County Durham's employment landscape, which once boasted a number of clothing makers, including fur coat maker Astraka, Sara Lee Courtaulds, Ramar, and Dewhirst, which made trousers for Marks and Spencer.
Cocooned within it's base on Whitehouse Business Park, which was originally built to operate as a call centre, AMA's experienced team of stitchers busily weave fabrics together.
The intermittent whirring of their machines, competing with the radio's varied playlist, continues as products pass down the line.
A nearby rack holds their wares, with skirts, leggings and jerseys neatly arranged on hangers for show.
This may be a return to clothing making for the North-East, but for many of the staff, it's just like going home.
Annmarie Dawson, from Easington, east Durham, previously worked at Claremont Garments, progressing from trainee machinist to senior production and quality supervisor.
She stayed with the firm until its demise in the early 2000s, and was latterly at cleaning products company Reckitt Benckiser as her career took a different direction.
Leaning over the rack of clothing, she can't hide her delight, smiling as she reveals her own unique piece of industry history.
She said: “It's absolutely fantastic and it's like a family coming back together.
“There are some people here that I haven't seen for 13 years.
“I never thought clothes making would come back to this region in my lifetime, but we've now got the chance to play our part in reviving it.
“I'm actually using the same pair of scissors I did all those years ago.
“They were put away in a drawer at home and it's so pleasing to be able to use them again.”
Just yards away, Cath Pattison, from Seaham, is busy at her machine.
Leaving school at 15 to work in the industry, her career also took her to Claremont Garments, but after its closure, she found work at an electrics firm.
She said the feeling of returning to her sewing machine was akin to winning the lottery.
She added: “It feels like I've never been away and it's wonderful to see some old faces again.
“Being sat back behind the machine brings back so many memories.
“I feel on top of the world and when I found out I was one of the first 20 staff, it felt like I'd been given £1m.”
Mrs Price, who ran lingerie business Essensual Lingerie after Claremont Garments closed its manufacturing sites, said AMA's arrival has been met with huge excitement.
She added: “It has been absolutely phenomenal and there has been so much enthusiasm towards the business.
“We have got the start of a great workforce and a building for the future here, which are the foundations to create something big.”