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Alan Sugar’s plan to save manufacturing skills

Entrepreneur says ‘incubator factories’ would support UK production growth.

Lord Alan Sugar has called on the Government to urgently invest in garment manufacturing skills to prevent the UK textiles industry from withering away altogether.

Sugar, who fronts BBC TV series The Apprentice and presides over a £750m business empire, called for the Government to equip empty warehouse buildings with production machinery, so the buildings could serve as “incubator factories” where fashion designers could launch businesses or develop technical skills.

In a clear echo of Drapers’ ongoing Save Our Skills campaign, Sugar said there was a particular need to develop grass-roots skills such as pattern-cutting and sewing, and said the incubator factories could act as a manufacturing equivalent of Sir Philip Green’s Fashion Retail Academy.

Sugar said: “We have seen the complete migration of the textile industry to areas such as the Far East and other continents. We have lost the manufacturing industry for high-volume production in this country. We seriously need to recognise this fact.

“What can we do to re-engage in that very lucrative market? I believe the secret lies with encouraging young people who are fashion-orientated to be trained so that they are allowed to express their artistic talent in a way that translates into locally-produced finished product…Not that we are all going to be fashion designers. There is a need for pattern-cutters, for example, and for machinists. Where will they learn?”

Sugar, whose father was an East End tailor, whose mother was a “felling hand” and whose brothers and sisters were machinists, said grass-roots skills training could also provide a valuable source of jobs for young people who did not follow the traditional university route.

“Not every young person is blessed with the brain to become an accountant, doctor or lawyer. It is those forgotten young people, who perhaps do not excel academically but do have a talent, who we could offer a future to,” he said, at a House of Lords debate, organised by Baroness Lola Young.

Separately, menswear designer Christopher Raeburn, who was awarded NewGen Men sponsorship by the British Fashion Council to host an installation at last month’s London Fashion Week, has told Drapers that as a fledgling menswear designer he would have benefitted from working with small UK factories prepared to nurture designers with lower-volume orders and highly skilled needs.

He said: “When I was a student, a lot of people were saying we couldn’t produce in the UK and my reaction was, ‘why not?’. We have an obligation to employ staff [in the UK] and keep skills going.”

Raeburn was due to present to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sustainability and Ethics in Fashion at another meeting at the House of Lords, as Drapers went to press. Also chaired by Baroness Young, the meeting was to focus on the importance of product made in England and was to be attended by businesses including knitwear brand John Smedley, tailor Dashing Tweeds, denim brand Tender and organic Scottish weaver Ardalanish Isle of Mull Weavers.

John Smedley creative director Dawne Stubbs said she would discuss “the importance of our business to the local and national economy. It’s about national pride.”

TV role for Rose?

The BBC is courting former Marks & Spencer chief executive and chairman Sir Stuart Rose to become “the next Alan Sugar”.

It is understood that Rose, who has not agreed to any plans, is being pursued to front a series on BBC2 that would look at the challenges facing UK manufacturing as one of a range of business issues.

Television production company Silver River, which is behind the series Twiggy’s Frock Exchange, has approached brands that manufacture in the UK, including footwear giant New Balance, which has a factory in Flimby, Cumbria, to feature in the proposed series.

Rose declined to comment on whether he had held talks with the BBC or Silver River, but a source told Drapers he had had a range of similar offers and the BBC had not yet secured him as a presenter.

Rose, who retired at the end of last year, previously said he was seeking roles outside retail.

Readers' comments (3)

  • While completely supportive of these big fashion retailers and other groups who are behind this campaign to bring manufacturing back to the UK, I can't help but wonder why there wasn't a strong push for a movement like this during the recession when job losses were so great. Taking into account manufacturing is less expensive far east, is there not a greater responsibility to support our own?

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  • Lets not be fooled here, it isnt about jobs, its about bottom line. Retailers and brands have realised that its not as cheap, efficient, and suffer quality issues, plus the headache of sorting it all out, when it goes wrong, a different set of headaches, and now want to revert back to UK!! Its nothing to do with creating jobs, its about their bottom line. The reason why they didnt push for it earlier was because everyone went offshore due to price. Being squeezed by price wil always be there, and this has led to the creation of sweatshops. What makes me laugh is that reaailers are doing audits on overseas factories, only for production to be subbed out elsewhere. This is standard practise and is rife. Whether it Turkey, China, Bangladesh, India, it goes on - even those guys are forced into paying poor wages and creating slave labour.

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  • Vanessa Treasure

    As a designer and manufacturer of many years standing I thoroughly applaud that at last there is recognition by the government of this situation (although, it should have been anticipated as it wasn't hard to work out that this would happpen). I agree totally with all that has been said. My suggestion is that all existing colleges get their act together and really work with local businesses. In my area of Stoke on Trent my annoying contact with the local college is that they contacted me, got me in and sold me the idea of taking on apprentices and then,despite my enthusiasm and offer to go in and talk to students, I have heard absolutely nothing! I got the impression that the member of staff concerned was just ticking boxes, I can't believe that none of the students would have been interested in working in the fashion industry; indeed I know they are there and suspect that the educational establishments hinder rather than help. We also need radical changes in employment law giving more protection to employers and less red tape for small businesses. I am very glad that Alan Sugar has got involved as he is just the man to come up with some practical solutions.

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