Second generation: Nieper in one of his Alfreton factories
In Christopher Nieper's eyes, the coronavirus has hammered home the message that community is at the heart of business. It is certainly the case for him.
He has spent 35 years working at David Nieper, the boutique clothing firm founded by his father, which is based in Alfreton in Derbyshire and is an integral part of the town.
Whilst other fashion businesses have shifted their manufacturing abroad and are reliant on far flung suppliers, he is proud of the fact it is a British brand with almost all its supply chain in this country.
Christopher Nieper has spent 35 years working at David Nieper, the boutique clothing firm founded by his father, which is based in Alfreton, Derbyshire and is an integral part of the town
Normally the business sells upmarket ladies wear, but in the coronavirus pandemic, Christopher wants to switch production to make surgical gowns and scrubs to help the NHS.
'I feel this virus has shown that the whole idea of globalisation has passed its peak,' he says.
'Never again as a country should we leave ourselves so exposed, with the NHS desperate for scrubs and gowns the country can't supply, and it is the same with other things, such as respirators.
'We are moving into a new age of localisation, with community at its heart. We are loyal to local skills and have never been offshore,' he says. 'In the past 30 years, around 900,000 textile jobs have disappeared in the UK.
Therein lies the problem. We need NHS garments but there is no textile sector left to produce them.'
Normally, the second-generation family firm sells its clothing online and through a printed catalogue, making profits of up to £2million a year.
'It is often said that it's impossible to make a profit as a British business in this industry but we prove that is a myth.'
The company employs 300 people in five factories in Alfreton, and has its own academy, a secondary school with 93 staff and 560 pupils.
'We took over an underperforming school three years ago. We need well-educated young people in the town, not just to work for us, but elsewhere,' he says.
The business, Christopher says, is in a relatively good position. 'We have no debt. That is a deliberate policy and it has been the case for the last 25 years.
Normally, David Nieper sells upmarket ladies wear, but in the coronavirus pandemic, Christopher wants to switch production to make surgical gowns and scrubs to help the NHS
Everything we invest is from our own reserves that we save up.' Awarded an OBE in the New Year's honours list, he took over as chief executive from his father 15 years ago, who is still involved, 'though not as much.'
He has had contact with the Government about making garments for NHS staff and volunteers. 'What about the thousands of retired medics who want to come back?' he asks.
'What are they going to wear? 'We need the right fabrics – they need to be suitable, for instance, they need to be washable at very high temperatures.
One problem is that all our suppliers are closed, so I'm not sure where we can get fabric.'
Most staff are on furlough, but Nieper believes they could jump back into action immediately.
'They would love to be part of the solution. All of us want to be putting our shoulder to the wheel. We are here, we are like a coiled spring. We think we could produce up to 10,000 surgical gowns a week.'
In the longer term, Nieper believes coronavirus will teach society and businesses lessons about the perils of globalisation and the importance of local communities.
'We are here with our business in Alfreton, in a forgotten town, a former coal mining town.
'One of Boris Johnson's big themes before this crisis was levelling up the Midlands and the North and helping towns like ours, the places where there used to be mining, steel and shipbuilding, but where the industry has gone.
'These places are just left stuck. The bright children leave, because they think they have to leave to achieve. I hope we are an exemplar of what can happen in these towns.
'This is why we have the school, because we want kids to do well, we want talented people to stay here, with their family around them, and their community.
'If they want to spread their wings, fine, but it should be a choice, they shouldn't have to do it.'