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.