Exhilarated. It’s not a word you would automatically associate with manufacturing, but that was how the Drapers team felt after its open day for UK garment producers last Thursday.
Exhilarated. It’s not a word you would automatically associate with manufacturing, but that was how the Drapers team felt after its open day for UK garment producers last Thursday, held jointly with the UK Fashion & Textile Association at its office in London.
The businesses that came forward to debate the challenges the industry is facing covered a pretty broad range of sizes and specialisms, from Topshop T-shirts and bamboo baby hats to Saville Row suiting.
When Drapers started the SOS (Save Our Skills) campaign last month, it was because we felt there was a skills gap that was out of kilter with an emerging trend for the return of garment manufacturing to the UK.
But it was only at the manufacturers’ open day that it became clear how much this is the case - and how urgently it needs to be addressed. In news terms, it felt like we had just tapped a rich seam of oil - staggering stories of illegal workers, high-profile retailers launching apprenticeship schemes and the Ministry of Defence outsourcing its contracts overseas for the sake of 5p a sock. Five pence a sock might make sense to the MoD procurement manager, but when stacked against the implications for manufacturing jobs, it doesn’t make economic sense.
Astonishingly, the meeting seemed to be one of the first times that the industry had come together in this way. There was speedy progress made on the subject of skills, as the premium end of the market, which has already made some headway in tackling this area, shared its best-practice tips with those in the mid-market and value sectors.
That is not to say the discussion was entirely harmonious, however, or that attendees left with a clear understanding of how to fix the fault lines. What stacks up, in terms of investment, for a catwalk label is harder to make sense of in a factory where staff are labouring on minimum wage.
But there was a point of agreement that money for training has to come from somewhere, whether it is from government tax breaks, manufacturers themselves or the retail industry, or a combination of all three. How this combination might work is an issue that we intend to keep pursuing.
Katherine Rushton is deputy editor of Drapers