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Brits can make it here

Peter Lucas

When the UK Fashion & Textile Association embarked on developing its ‘Let’s Make it Here’ database of British suppliers a year ago, our reasons were not entirely nostalgic; we also recognised a change in the sourcing tide, which was bringing about a real opportunity for UK manufacturers

When the UK Fashion & Textile Association embarked on developing its ‘Let’s Make it Here’ database of British suppliers a year ago, our reasons were not entirely nostalgic; we also recognised a change in the sourcing tide, which was bringing about a real opportunity for UK manufacturers.

For most of the past 15 years, fashion buyers have been chasing the lowest cost production base. The consumer boom of the 1990s saw buyers putting more of their spend into the marketing of products to take advantage of consumer demand and becoming less concerned about where a product was made; all they wanted was more and more for less and less. The UK was at the forefront of this movement, particularly due to the strength of the UK high street and the demands of retail buyers.

Today, the scenario is quite different. Wage inflation has meant once low-cost countries are now no longer ‘cheap’. Then factor in the hike in fuel charges, take into account ethical issues and carbon footprints, as well as the relative political instability in some overseas manufacturing bases, and suddenly UK production is much more appealing.

The economic situation is also helping, as with less disposable income, consumers are buying less and are looking for quality. That plays right into UK manufacturing’s hands.

While British buyers turned their backs on buying from domestic suppliers, international buyers searching for that distinctive British look have continued to be supportive of British fabric, fashion and footwear. They continued to buy the ‘genuine’ article, not a low-cost substitute.

With this resurgence in interest there are going to be capacity issues. We’ve lost nearly a generation of skilled employees and that is going to take some time to replace. But we are working on that with our colleagues at sector skills council Skillfast and learning from countries such as Denmark which have been able to kick-start their manufacturing industry at the designer end.

A strong, flexible manufacturing base in the UK is also essential to the survival of our rapidly expanding UK designer sector, created by our world-leading fashion schools, with their high international profile, and quest for quality and authenticity. They will depend on local and flexible manufacturing - and this is the challenge facing UKFT and the industry.

Peter Lucas is chairman of the UK Fashion & Textile Association. A full list of UK manufacturers is available at www.ukft.org/letsmakeithere

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