Stop complaining about energy bills and go green, says UK fashion boss

Calls for help with business energy bills have reached a crescendo this week – but a businessman is begging for disagreement.

Christopher Nieper, 58, who runs fashion business David Nieper founded by his late father in Alfreton, Derbyshire, said businesses should stop whining and go green to save on bills.

“On energy prices and the cost of living, I’m worried about my staff,” he says. “We are actively discussing what we can do to cushion this by paying higher wages, especially at the lower end, even if it eats away at profitability.

Going green: Christopher Nieper runs the David Nieper fashion business founded by his father in Derbyshire

“But it’s time for many companies to stop complaining!”

“The government could incentivize companies [to go green] but should not just subsidize bills.

“It’s a good investment to generate your own energy where you can.”

Nieper began installing solar panels on the roofs of its five factories 12 years ago.

“The return on investment for us is between 18% and 25%, which is way more than what we can get with cash in the bank,” he says. “The current crisis has been a catalyst to redouble our efforts.”

The solar panels have roughly halved the company’s electricity needs, aided by other measures including basics such as good insulation. Nieper replaced nearly all of the company’s gas boilers with air-source heat pumps.

After succeeding his father David 16 years ago as chief executive, Nieper stands by a solid core of business beliefs.

Until recently, this put it out of step with the mainstream orthodoxy of just-in-time supply chains, using factories in cheap locations overseas and going into debt.

Big shoes to fill: the late David Nieper

Big shoes to fill: the late David Nieper

Its ethos is self-reliance, rather than moaning and asking for handouts, making products in Britain instead of outsourcing to cheaper places overseas – and not going into debt.

He believes that business is at its best in the heart of the community. So much so that he even intervened to save a failing school near his factories.

So next week he will watch with pride as students return for the new term at the David Nieper Academy, which now has 800 students compared to 344 when he spoke.

A supporter of Brexit, he would like to be able to turn to young graduates from the local school to fill future jobs in his company.

It will also, he says, open up opportunities for children to carve out a better life for themselves, whatever career path they choose.

“Just over half of the children at the Academy come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he says.

“But there is as much talent here as you would find in Highgate or Hampstead.

“If we can just unlock that, it fuels the growth of the city’s economy, not just for us but for other businesses. And if it can be done in cities across the UK, it will bring prosperity.

Savings: Christopher Nieper started installing solar panels on the roofs of his five factories twelve years ago and says the return on investment has been between 18% and 25%

Savings: Christopher Nieper started installing solar panels on the roofs of his five factories twelve years ago and says the return on investment has been between 18% and 25%

Savings: Christopher Nieper started installing solar panels on the roofs of his five factories twelve years ago and says the return on investment has been between 18% and 25%

Alfreton’s history is in coal mining and textiles, “most of which are now gone,” he says.

“When this happens, the heart goes out of a city, then when a school fails too…” He stops. The new purpose-built building opened in 2016.

“Before we took over it had been rated at the lowest tier by Ofsted for a number of years,” he says.

“It was the weakest school in Derbyshire and in the bottom 2% of all UK schools.

“Now it’s the sixth most subscribed in the county.

“The pathways to poverty are drug addiction, debt and family breakdown. If you have an education that allows you to get a good job, you are more likely to escape all this. We gave him our name, which was a pretty big risk.

The beauty of the ball: A model in a merino wool dress David Nieper

The beauty of the ball: A model in a merino wool dress David Nieper

The beauty of the ball: A model in a merino wool dress David Nieper

“But my belief is that you can carry employer brand values ​​into the school.”

The David Nieper business, which sells its clothes online and via print catalog to women over 50, is one of the survivors of a once vibrant industry in the East Midlands.

The group employs 300 people in a city of 22,000 inhabitants. Alfreton, says Nieper, is one of over 200 ‘forgotten’ small towns in the UK with a population of around 5 million.

He says, “A lot of them are swing seats. If the government does not make progress in these areas, it will not have made any progress.

Raised in nearby Matlock, Nieper says he joined the family business “by mistake” after studying engineering at Leeds University and learning “from the bottom up”. “My dad started there,” he says, pointing to the parking lot, in a wartime Nissan shack.

“In 1970, it was a field. There was a butcher with pigs running around and a slaughterhouse up there.

When the butcher died, my father bought the field. He built the factory in 1972 and gradually acquired more land.

Since the death of his father last year, the business has been owned by his 86-year-old mother and will later be placed in trust.

“We have a lot of people wanting to buy it, but it would destroy what we do. Private equity comes in all the time to see if we’ll sell, but there’s no point.

The playbook of hard-working, debt-satisfied, profit-hungry private equity is totally alien. Nieper is proud to be a British brand with virtually its entire supply chain in the UK.

Most other fashion companies have moved their manufacturing overseas and depend on distant suppliers, some of whom have questionable labor practices.

He admits it ‘would have been cheaper to go abroad’ but says ‘one of the brand’s strengths is being British’. He says: “There is so much untapped talent in communities like Alfreton and other forgotten towns.

“We have been here for 60 years. You get to the point where you realize that longevity is not about product, finances, buildings or machines, but about people.

“That’s why I’m still here at Alfreton. I live 15 minutes away. The camaraderie is so beautiful, why would I go anywhere else? »

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