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Comment: UK fashion and textiles firms need more export support

UK clothing and fabric companies could significantly boost export activity with the right support, says Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion and Textile Association.

Exports are vital to our sector. We welcome the Government’s ambition to raise the country’s exports as a percentage of GDP and are encouraged that the export strategy recognises the importance of putting business at its heart. However, the strategy contains no new financial support for companies wanting to grow their export business, and most of the activity listed is not new.

The Trade Show Access Programme (TAP) is the only major source of direct financial support to companies in the fashion and textile sector. UKFT takes almost 700 companies to around 40 international trade shows each year and, between them, those companies receive in the region of £650,000 in government funding. We estimate that each £1 of TAP funding generates £70 in taxable export orders, so there is a fantastic return on investment. This is more than three times the return on investment of the government’s “Great” campaign to improve and increase exports (at £1:£20).

However, at a time when we need to be encouraging and supporting exporters and preparing them for Brexit, the funding rules have become very tight and almost exclusively aimed at businesses that are new to export. Our European competitors get significantly better help and support both directly to companies and also to raise the profile of the industry in general. The Italian government regularly invests up to €20m of export promotion for Italian brands in the US market alone. The UK currently spends less than half of that across all UK industries.

We would have liked to see a commitment to double the amount of money spent on TAP; for it also to support more established brands to enter new and challenging markets such as the USA and Japan, (important Brexit-proof markets for our industry); and to include online market places where companies can actually reach international consumers.

As an industry, we are one of those which has been really bucking the trend. UK exports of fashion and textiles were worth £9.6 billion in 2017, an increase of 22% in five years, but we could do so much more if we got the right level of funding and type of support from government.

We are reassured by the government’s commitment to UK Export Finance (UKEF), but there is a huge amount of work to be done to make UKEF’s services appropriate for this industry, especially those with a large number of smaller invoice values as they start to export

While some industries may benefit from being listed on government-run digital platforms, there is no shortage of these in our industry. Industry knowledge and relevance are key and our industry has not found these successful in the past. On the other hand, leverage for new British brands into UK and international online market places is something we would be keen to see.

Finally, the Great campaign has the potential to be a useful banner to promote UK fashion and textile exports. However, the rules are very prescriptive, and the messaging is not always clear. Similarly, there is still no funding to help UK industries to compete against their European rivals with promotions such as  government-backed trade pavilions, information stands and group advertising, and so on.

UKFT is committed to working with the government and Department for International Trade to get the best deal and the right level and type of support for the UK fashion & textile industry.


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