HomeNewsBarnsley’s international style icon is back in business

Barnsley’s international style icon is back in business

International style guru Rita Britton has revived her iconic fashion brand Pollyanna – and started designing and making clothes in Barnsley again.

Rita, who opened her first fashion emporium in the town centre in 1967, has come out of semi-retirement to relaunch Pollyanna Barnsley Ltd with business partner and daughter-in-law Michelle Underwood.

This time around, the pair will focus entirely on the design and manufacture of their own collection, selling direct to Rita’s long list of loyal customers – and a new generation of couture buyers. Rita and Michelle have moved into a new workshop at The Business Village Barnsley and are recruiting to a small team of pattern cutters and machinists headed up by experienced seamstress Hazel Snow who has worked with Rita for eight years.

“I can’t do retirement. I’ve had to pull back in the past for health reasons but always want to get back to work. I still have a passion for beautifully made clothes and I want to be part of the future not the past.”


Rita’s original Pollyanna store, which closed in 2014 after 50 years’ trading, stocked avant garde labels such as Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. She launched her own design collection in the 1990s to create a range of enduring staples which complemented the big-name designers.

Previously marketed under the label Nomad, Rita and Michelle have re-launched her collection under Rita’s signature Pollyanna brand.

“We decided to adopt the name Pollyanna for the label now as it is so well-recognised, and I’m very fond of it. I did wonder if younger people may find it old-fashioned, but they seem to love it.”

Pollyanna offers an exclusive range of designs through online, telephone and in-person sales. Most garments are custom-made to order and pieces may be adjusted to fit an individual’s body shape if required.

“We’re almost working to a tailor business model, making to order cuts out waste almost entirely and ensures each person receives a garment that is perfect for them and will make them feel fabulous every time they put it on. People have to wait for a garment from us, but our customers are okay with that.”

This business ethos resonates with Rita’s twin commitments to enduring style and sustainability. She has always stood against fast, unethical and carbon-guzzling fashion.

“I’ve taken people to task on this issue for years. I know we have to walk a tightrope on this matter, because young women want to follow trends and have new looks and we need to work out how to serve that desire too. But, it has never been right to pay a 12-year-old in a faraway country a pittance to make poor quality clothes then ship them here to wear for a little while then throw. We need to change attitudes, buy less and buy better. It will mean a big change for many, but I believe we’ll get used to paying the proper price for clothing again; and sustainable, ethical options can be designed and made at every level. We’re a high-end producer of course; that’s what we do. If you buy from Pollyanna you’re buying a beautiful garment made with exceptional quality fabric which you’ll be wearing it in five, ten, 20 years’ time.”

Through her new venture, Rita is also focused on supporting the revival of clothing manufacture in this region, joining companies like Lucy and Yak and Glass Onion Vintage who have got sewing machines whirring again in Barnsley workshops.

Rita is working with Barnsley College to support the idea of new pattern cutting courses and sewing apprenticeships; and explore the possibility of a showcase for young designers in Barnsley town centre.

“We threw away a generation of skilled machinists in Barnsley when companies like SR Gent lost out to low-cost overseas production and closed down in the early 2000s. We’ve got to act quickly if we want to reach out to those former factory workers and encourage them to come back and pass on their expertise before it is lost entirely. I want to be part of the revival of our ability to design and make clothes here in Barnsley.”

Michelle, an experienced stylist and vintage fashion enthusiast, is also focused on extending Pollyanna’s customer base by embracing the latest digital technology to step up how products are viewed, visualised on the person and ordered online.

“We are delighted to welcome Rita and Michelle to The Business Village. Pollyanna is a global heritage brand synonymous with Barnsley and has a great future ahead of it. Rita brought Mary Quant miniskirts to Barnsley in the 1960s and Japanese designers to the UK in the 1980s, so it’s no surprise she’s at the forefront of the today’s campaign to revive clothing manufacturing in the UK and champion a more sustainable approach in the fashion industry.

Kevin Steel, Business development manager at The Business Village

Rita and her team have already started working with other Business Village tenants including Alex Hollinworth Photography  and  Kimberly Bridal ; with a view to more collaborations on website development and potential apprenticeships in the future.

For further information about office space at The Business Village, Barnsley, contact Kevin Steel on 01226 249590 or ksteel@BarnsleyBIC.co.uk