While trade has been buoyant since the start of the year for many British textile companies, the UK’s upcoming exit from the European Union is presenting fresh challenges with its associated impact on exchange rates and potential changes to custom duties.
“The initial effects of Brexit were very positive as our customers worldwide have seen no changes as yet to our trading condition,” said David Gallimore, managing director of the Luxury Fabrics division of Bradford-based textile group SIL Holdings. “They have seen a significant benefit in the exchange rate with the British pound.”
Dawn Robson-Bell, design and sales director at tartan specialist Lochcarron of Scotland, agreed, explaining the firm has had a positive start to the year and a number of accounts had placed volume business in line with the orders they usually place. She highlighted positive feedback from markets such as Japan, where exchange rate movements are making its fabrics seem more affordable and customers appreciate its tartan and plaid styling.
But Gallimore warned it has become harder to sell to UK customers because there has been a significant increase in the offshore cost of garment making, and said overseas customers are starting to become concerned that duties will be implemented on UK fabric further into the future.
“As wool prices and the general costs for UK companies increase, it is proving an extremely challenging time to sell UK cloth,” he explained.
Robson-Bell added: “We are concerned that our raw materials, which are all imported either in fibre or yarn form, have increased in price. We’re doing what we can to manage this.”
Bruce Crabtree, design director at Sudbury-based silk weavers Stephen Walters & Sons, said we were in “unsettling times” because of currency fluctuations, Brexit and the election result in the US, but felt a collaborative approach with customers would bring some stability.
However, Linton Tweeds managing director Keith Walker said the Carlisle-based woven tweed and knitted fabric firm wass having its “strongest year ever” and was investing in its manufacturing capabilities with the help of the Textile Growth Fund to take better advantage of the opportunities presented by Brexit.
“Our business in Asia and America is already growing and we don’t expect any deal with Europe to materially affect our strong customer ties,” he said. “We were trading in Europe before the UK joined the common market and we will cope with any administrative changes negotiated by our government.”
UK mills are sometimes seen as more suited to the winter season thanks to particular expertise in heavier suiting and coating fabrics, but there was a particularly strong showing at this week’s Première Vision in Paris. Firms have developed new spring fabrics such as cashmere, wool and cotton blends for menswear, and slubby textured tweeds in silk-linen constructions. Fancy fabrics, new crepes and chiffons and bright plaids also gained lots of attention on the UK Fashion and Textiles Association showcase at the event, said UKFT textiles consultant Beryl Gibson.
Meanwhile, several overseas textile firms supplying the UK high street told Drapers of the challenges of passing on increased costs relating to currency fluctuations to buyers. They believed buyers would cut orders because final consumers would not accept the price rises.
“It is more difficult in womenswear than menswear, as buyers tell us the final consumer won’t pay more so they will cut orders,” said a representative of one Chinese firm supplying major UK multiples, who did not wish to be named. “The weakness of the pound means maintaining retail profit is tough, so everyone is looking for ways to develop more competitive production.”