Christopher Nieper is a man who knows the difference between silk and satin.
Having worked at the family-run fashion house David Nieper for a whopping 30 years this year, he certainly understands what it takes to make wearable womenswear. However, managing director Christopher hasn’t always been so fashion-savvy. Aged 19, stockings, shawls and skirts were the last thing on his mind.
The then-teen sailed the Atlantic and started his own furniture repair business before completing a degree in mechanical engineering.
But in 1986 he joined the family firm in Alfreton, at a time when the company had a huge decision to make – should it stay in Britain or go offshore like most other fashion manufacturing?
It chose to stay in Britain and has never looked back, since then the company has grown every year and has remained steadfast in its commitment to local British skills.
Being ‘Made in Britain’ is something the father-of-four is passionate about. In fact, the ‘Made in Britain’ mantra is a core brand value in today’s business and Christopher is very much an industry ambassador for British manufacturing.
He said: “Inspiration comes from a senses commitment to local community, building skills locally, creating jobs locally.
“I’m passionate about British manufacturing and rebuilding fashion production in the UK. We make the production process transparent, customers know who made their clothes.”
Christopher said there are many things he finds rewarding about the job: “The loyalty of staff and customers is amazing. We receive hundreds of customer ‘thank you’ letters each year which makes all the hard work worth it. Staff are also sticking with us and earning long service awards. Half of the staff have been here for more than ten years – often mothers and daughters work together – it’s a real family.”
As well as the personal rewards, Christopher has also been rewarded professionally.
In 2014, Christopher and his father received a lifetime achievement award for contribution to British made fashion. In 2015 Christopher was named as one of 20 exemplars within the Manufacturer top 100 – a list of the UK’s most inspiring individuals. In the same year cited as one of Derbyshire’s most inspirational 250 people.
Also in 2015 he formed the David Nieper Education Trust, which engages with primary and secondary schools, to universities and vocational training. The trust encourages young people to consider careers in fashion and manufacturing, and has been approved by the Department for Education as sponsor of a secondary school to be rebuilt this year for 850 students.
“Success is entirely down to our wonderful staff and it’s a privilege to invest in the local community and develop local skills.”
In his spare time Christopher enjoys beekeeping, sports and music, but that spare time is a luxury. And this year is set to be busier than ever.
“We’ve grown significantly but there is still plenty of room for growth. I hope to recruit up to 100 new trainees in the next three years. I also want to expand the David Nieper Education Trust and oversee the successful sponsorship of Alfreton’s secondary school and the creation of a new community school format where employers and the world of education work together and support each other.
“You get back what you put in, and youngsters are the future of not only the company, but the industry as a whole.”