Adam Mansell became chief executive of not-for-profit organisation UK Fashion & Textile Association in January. He is now focused on championing UK manufacturing and helping brands to export around the world.
I got into the fashion and textiles industry almost by accident but I’ve now been working in this area for more than 20 years. I started working at the British Clothing Industry Association in the mid-1990s because I had a degree in politics, focusing on how the industry could work with the political system in Westminster and Brussels, and later worked in industry associations including the British Interior Textiles Association and the Silk Association of Great Britain. I joined the UKFT as chief operating officer at the end of 2009, when it was formed. Then I ran my own Wulff Consultancy until the end of last year, when I returned to become UKFT chief executive, taking over from John Miln who stepped down.
My political background means lobbying government on behalf of our 400 direct member companies and broader network of 2,500 companies is a major priority. Lobbying can be quite esoteric – it’s very useful but sometimes it can be difficult to get across how important a joined-up message from the industry is for the smaller brands or suppliers. Our focus for this year will centre around a longer-term vision for exports and support for training, as well as recognition of the huge importance and diversity of the fashion and textiles industry.
Helping to facilitate exports is a key activity for the UKFT. We take around 600 companies to trade shows such as Pitti Uomo in Florence or Chic and Pure in Shanghai, as well as on export missions to countries like Japan each year. We offer brands around £750,000 of Tradeshow Access Programme [TAP] grants each year and they turn that into approximately £30m in taxable revenues, which is down slightly on last year.
We are working on developing an export strategy for the industry to give the government a better return on investment and to spend grants more effectively. We’ve already had some very promising conversations with trade minister Lord Maude [who will be replaced by Waitrose managing director Mark Price in April] and it is something we will be pushing forward this year. We’re proposing that the industry, via UKFT, its partners and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) develop a long-term strategy for a minimum of three years and include an enhanced and longer-term approach to the TAP funding, as well as identifying and mentoring start-ups to get them export ready.
Promoting UK manufacturing to government and the wider industry is another big thing on our agenda. Not all of our members manufacture in the UK but it is important to recognise those that do. A few years ago we launched the Letsmakeithere.org website to help brands and retailers find manufacturing partners here. The interest in UK manufacturing is growing significantly. We are working on continuing to map out the landscape via the website and there is also a lot of work to do around helping brands and manufacturers work together more effectively, which we aim to do as part of our seminar and masterclass programme.
The government needs to understand that we cannot have a “one size fits all” approach to manufacturing. Things like the apprenticeship levy that comes in in April 2017 will have a big impact on retailers. But it is important that we get the right approach for apprenticeship legislation for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as the big plcs. There is no detail on how the funding of apprenticeships will work for companies with a payroll of less than £3m – which most firms in our industry are – so we need the government to provide clarity.
The outlook for the year ahead seems mixed, depending on what and where you are selling. Price pressures on the UK high street remain and our high streets lack diversity, so product is becoming very safe, making it hard for new brands to grow. If you have a brand with a good DNA, particularly if you are selling ”Britishness”, there are good export markets in Japan, the US and elsewhere, even though the currency situation makes UK exports quite expensive at the moment. China has not been the panacea everyone hoped but UKFT is seeing some interesting business there, particularly for our textile and textile design companies. Russia remains unstable but some companies are still reporting good business. Europe is fairly positive, especially in Spain (fuelled by the increase in tourism) and Scandinavia. There is concern about the UK referendum on European Union membership but in most cases there is a “business as usual” approach to the UK. Let’s hope this continues.