Clarks’ decision to close its Somerset factory does not reflect the state of the wider UK textile manufacturing industry, argues Make it British founder Kate Hills.
I was shocked to hear that Clarks may close its new factory in Somerset, which only started production in July 2018.
The new factory was an important milestone in the ongoing reshoring of fashion and textile manufacturing to the UK. When such an iconic brand, and particularly one operating at high street rather than designer level, showed enough confidence in local manufacturing to invest in a new factory, it was a sure indicator of an industry revival.
But despite what it might first seem, I don’t think the Clarks factory closure is a sign that big brands can’t make UK manufacturing viable. There are plenty of other manufacturers making it work.
Take, for example, Hotter Shoes, which last year reported an increase in profits. They have recently invested millions of pounds to create one of the most advanced shoe making facilities in the world at their factory in Skelmersdale.
My experience is that, far from Brexit having a negative impact on manufacturing, it seems to have made many businesses more acutely aware of the fact that a local production option is now an essential part of any brand’s supply chain.
In fact, since the start of 2019, we’ve seen a huge rise in the amount of businesses contacting us at Make it British, either seeking UK production, or wanting to showcase their manufacturing services at our Make it British Live! trade show. The only downside at the moment is that some domestic manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand.
I’m also hearing very positive stories from manufacturers who have implemented automation and technology within their UK factories and seen increased productivity, allowing them to compete with overseas prices. For instance, Fashion Enter, a factory in North London making for high street names such as Asos, saw an uplift from 4,000 to 7,500 garments a week in garment production when they started using the Galaxius management information system to track production.
Regardless of what has caused Clarks’ U-turn on its Somerset factory, it is not a sign that the UK textile manufacturing revival is already over. In fact, it has only just begun.