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Home Made: Manufacturing a future for UK garment factories

Fashion Enter factory

Fashion Enter outlines its plans for further expansion to offer the UK’s manufacturers the skills required to grow.

fashion enter factory

fashion enter factory

Fashion Enter factory in north London

Nestled on a quiet, unassuming north London suburban road, British garment manufacturing factory and training centre Fashion Enter has become a steadily growing force on the Made in Britain scene.

Last month, the not-for-profit social enterprise officially launched its new Fashion Technology Academy, aimed at upskilling existing UK manufacturers and providing the trained staff needed to launch more factories here. Now founder and director Jenny Holloway is working up plans to expand her initiative regionally.

Holloway, a former buyer for Littlewoods, M&S and Principles who also ran her own label Retro, first launched the 80,700 sq ft factory in 2010 with funding from Asos.com. It produces up to 7,500 units a week for the likes of M&S, Asos and John Lewis. A level 3 apprenticeship scheme was also launched with Asos and then, in July 2013, Holloway started the Stitching Academy, offering level 1 machine-stitching skills after struggling with the level of skills available in the UK.

Expanding upon this, the new Fashion Technology Academy (FTA) – which soft-launched in July to test the new courses – now offers all qualifications needed for garment development, ranging from level-1 courses in stitching, machine maintenance and fabric-cutting up to employer-led apprenticeships including level 3 garment technology and level 4 buying and merchandising, with ambitions to train 1,000 people a year.

The academy was made possible after Haringey Council invested £470,000, the Department for Work & Pensions put in £50,000 and Asos provided an undisclosed level of backing.

Retailers already working with the academy to train staff include M&S, Asos, Finery, Debenhams, Topshop, New Look and River Island. Holloway also reveals she is in talks to sign up Tesco for its F&F brand.

Jo Flanagan, M&S HR business partner for men’s, kids’ and home, explains that the retailer has had nine apprentices trained at the centre, with a further nine due to start in January. The apprentices work four days a week with the retailer and one day at the training academy for two years.

“We make some of our collection here [the Best of British range], so it’s great to have the link when they are at M&S to being here where they can see product being made and the full lifecycle. This place is so unique in the UK,” she says.

Caren Downie, founder and brand director at Finery London, adds: ”When I was at Asos we were instrumental in helping to set up the factory and were the first fashion business to have an apprentice. It is an amazing program and helps both the apprentices and the businesses to re-establish a skill base that has become lacking in our home industry. The program has grown hugely in a very short space of time which underlines the fact that FTA is providing a hugely needed training platform. It feels a totally modern way of learning and we should all support it as much as we can.”

Fashion Enter also launched a couturier in July, enabling it to make 50 to 300 units for London Fashion Week designers and brands, such as Finery and M&S’s Best of British collection, building on the Fashion Studio which was able to create runs of between one and 50 units.

But rather than stopping there, Holloway has grand plans to expand training across the UK to help the industry keep up with growing demand for Made in Britain product.

jenny holloway crop

jenny holloway crop

Jenny Holloway

To do this, she is seeking to establish a franchise model, whereby partners can adopt Fashion Enter’s model and training programmes – many of which have been written specifically for the business as they are not offered elsewhere. Holloway reveals she is keen to launch the franchise model in January and is currently talking to four different partners about the regional opportunities.

To facilitate this she has built a Moodle platform – an online course management system – where she has uploaded all of the business’s course workbooks, compliance policies and videos covering the garment cycle.

“We want to take what we have got and drop it into another region,” she says. “We are saying come and join us and work as a franchise and let’s get manufacturing flowing throughout the whole of the country. We are going to need it.

“We’re sitting on a goldmine of talent that we are not making the most of. If you look at the global stage, there’s great instability and we should be protecting our home business. You can’t just switch a factory on; you need to get all the skills and you have to invest in the skills now.”

According to the government’s Inter-Departmental Register of VAT-paying businesses, there are just under 100,000 people employed in UK textiles manufacturing. They work across 3,960 businesses, of which just 100 have more than 50 employees, emphasising the industry’s current micro nature.

Kate Hills, founder of the Make it British campaign body, adds: “There is a huge scarcity of skilled workers within the UK textile industry and it is the single biggest factor holding back growth. We need a lot more training schemes like the Technology Academy to keep up with increased demand. It is not just machinists that are needed but skilled staff within all aspects of the garment supply chain; for instance machinery mechanics are particularly in short supply.

“It would be great to see fashion technology academies like this rolled out throughout the country in areas where there is a high concentration of manufacturing. It would help to create a whole new generation of skilled workers coming into the industry, which is what we need.”

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