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Wolfson: UK should leave manufacturing to China

British clothing firms should concentrate on design and development and leave the manufacturing process to China, according to Next chief executive Lord Wolfson.

Speaking at the relaunch of the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT) last week, Wolfson dismissed talk of a revival in UK manufacturing and suggested that UK factories could never hope to compete with the standards, speed and prices offered in China and should not waste time trying.

“The value is not behind the sewing machine. The jobs we want are in design and development and add value,” he said.

Addressing an audience of UK manufacturers, retailers and industry leaders, Wolfson expressed admiration for UK suppliers that had survived the past 10 years in the industry by developing their overseas manufacturing capabilities while keeping design and strategy roles in the UK.

Citing the example of his Next suit, he said customers would not be able to get the same product, with the same quality and price, if it was made in the UK. By designing in the UK, sourcing fabric from Italy and manufacturing in China, Next was able to offer the best possible design at the best possible price, he said.

Readers' comments (10)

  • At last, a guy in the industry who is talking sense!

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  • Nepotism rules ok!

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  • www.lovemitsy.co.uk Lovemitsy

    That's fine but Mary Portas had a point.Give the people of UK with job opportunities,put them back into employment ,after all these are the people who are going to buy the products and spend.

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  • That's fine but Mary Portas had a point.Give the people of UK with job opportunities,put them back into employment ,after all these are the people who are going to buy the products and spend.

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  • Fabric from Italy, he wishes! Next suits are more flamable than a hog roast on Piper Alpha!
    Lets face it, he is correct in what he is saying to an extent, Athough, i dont think anybody actually believes that UK manufacturing will ever be to the 500 store group, bottom end high street level where Next sits. But for the good brands that ACTUALLY buy Italian fabrics (not just for a PR excersise on small units that dont sell at full price anyhow, so the buyers can nosey the ranges of Marzotto and like at PV) and are smaller in terms of volume, then the UK is a definate contender again. Do the Math!, do the legwork, cost your product in Italy Portugal and UK and you will see that the differential between the three bases is neglegable and that can easily be justified with other factors such as convenience, and other tiny things that are not even factored into large retailer margins like courier costs of development samples etc. If you pay £100 to courier a sample from China its 20p on the cost of a 500unit order!
    Anyhow, Lord Wolfsons views are very relevent to his business, but not all businesses, and i am sure the goverment, of which he is seemingly so eager to become a part of would find his comments unhelpful.

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  • I totally agree with Lord Wolfsons comments but I also think that Caroline Nodder’s point regarding manufacturing premium product out of the U.K (editorial in this week’s drapers) is also valid. It is a dream to think that UK clothing manufacturing is ever going to return to the scale it once was. Things have moved on, and the youth of today have opportunities other than manufacturing at their disposal when it comes down to career paths. However, I believe a small cottage style industry catering for premium product is still possible given the correct amount of investment. I wonder if Lord Wolfson is aware of the number of people leaving the textile industry in China. It seems that the number of machinists that fail to return to their machines after Chinese New Year increases every year. Maybe the writing is on the wall for Chinese clothing manufacturing as well.

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  • Lord Wolfson is right, it is impossible to manufacture in the UK any longer people need to get real and except this as fact stop crying about it and do as he points out.
    All the main players are doing it and have been for some time, China has already started to move its production out of the main cities and will continue to do so as well as producing in other low cost countries, next stop Africa!!!!

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  • Mary Portas swans into departments stores to get orders. It a huge PR campaign for herself and the store groups. A load of backslapping.

    Lets be real, you get paid more for stacking beans on shelves than busting your gut on piece rate overlocking and buttoning holeing.

    Wake up Portas, Wolfsons right, the games over. Cottage industry thats all thats left here.

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  • The very same Retailers who are banging on about UK manufacturing were the very ones responsible for its demise...where were they then!!!!...a bit late to try and resuscitate it now..
    The retail industry has a short memory ...so all those manufacturers out there make the most of it while it last...When you’re pushed to ramp up production and increase your lines ....make sure you get the Retailor to invest in your machinery....its about time they worked to your terms.

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  • I don’t think China is known for its quality in comparison to UK manufacturing... yes its cheap and fast but from experience it costs more than the base price by the time it’s finished. Many products only just get through QA and some even have to be reprocessed.
    During these times many consumers are starting to consider value as long lasting quality, not just the price on the label. I doubt UK manufacturing will ever compete with emerging markets on a huge level but I don’t think it should be underestimated.

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