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Drapers Debate: Can manufacturing really be rebuilt in the UK?

As business secretary Vince Cable joined representatives from the UK textile manufacturing industry in London last week to lend his support to a textile manufacturing revival in this country, Drapers considers whether textile manufacturing can ever really be re-built in the UK.

Ruth_Faulkner_for_web

Yes – Ruth Faulkner

Last week’s conference was entitled “A new dawn” and one thing which struck me was the amount of positivity, belief and determination that was present in the room.

All of the delegates at the event from every part of the textile manufacturing industry supply chain together with brands and retailers seemed to share the belief that this really was a “new dawn” for textile manufacturing in this country and one of the attendees even told me he saw the event as “the start of something big”.

For some time now there have been murmurings that it is no longer as economically viable as it once was to manufacture in the likes of the Far East and India – a consensus which has been driven by increasing labour costs and the disadvantages of long lead times. However, what we saw at the conference was actually cold, hard, carefully researched evidence that this is in fact the case.

Not only is it almost as cost effective for some garments, according to the report presented at the conference, but moreover there is a real and tangible worldwide appetite for brand Britain at the moment.

As another conference delegate rightly pointed out: “People in India and China don’t want to buy clothes that have been manufactured in their own back yard.”

With all this in mind it seems as though the demand is there and the economics certainly look viable but what about the reality of actually producing these goods?

There are currently 105,000 people employed in textile manufacturing in the UK. Maybe not the numbers there once were but the industry has by no means disappeared.

We have some fantastic centres of textile production here in the UK manufacturing some of the most sought after garments in the world – we just need to make sure we can build on this.

And, judging by the positivity of those in the room last week, there are plenty of people out there ready and willing to do everything they can to make that a reality.

Yes, young people do need to be encouraged to work in textile manufacturing and yes they do need to be trained but I, for one, have every confidence that there are enough passionate and committed people out there to ensure this happens.

 

Victoria Gallagher

No - Victoria Gallagher

It has been well documented that there is a shortage of people with production skills in the UK and this is not about to change overnight. The current work force is aging and the manufacturing industry just isn’t sexy enough to get young people interested.

With a small workforce any existing factories will find it difficult to expand and there certainly won’t be a chance for any new factories to open. Therefore, even if retailers are looking to produce garments closer to home then they will be hard pushed to find factories with the capacity to manufacture their orders.

If more young people don’t get into production roles now then in a few years’ time the skills will have disappeared and they will be very difficult to retrieve, deeming it nearly impossible to rebuild the textile manufacturing industry in the UK.

Also, with the economy as tough as it is now retailers and brands must control their costs as carefully as possible and this is tough to do as manufacturing in the UK is often more expensive than factories overseas.

Luxury brands and smaller runs of exclusive lines may be able to justify production in the UK however with retailers operating large scale collections on tight margins production in the UK sadly does not seen feasible. 

We have heard a lot of talk about manufacturing returning to the UK, however without the people, the skills or the factory space it will be difficult for this “new dawn” to break through.

 

Readers' comments (4)

  • I, for one , will be using UK manufacturers for up-coming collections. Unfortunately they cannot offer all garments and accessories we are looking to produce but I feel we must support the skills that are still here. For this reason I think more labels should consider mixing home-grown and foreign producers depending on the project.

    As a UK label we are keen to use UK manufacturers for higher quality products and improved communication. As your article also stated it can be cheaper for some runs, avoiding high delivery costs and duties.

    Finally for a young brand such as ourselves using experienced UK factories can add some gravitas and appeal for the export market.

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  • www.Anthony&Brown.co.uk

    Agree with Tom.

    UK factories can be great for small production runs and quicker turnaround and a good starting point for a new brand.
    Made in England is a great selling point too.
    The costs are still very high compared to abroad so it might be a while longer before production moves to the UK on a large scale - ie once costs abroad increase further.
    I personally am using a factory in England and am extremely pleased with the quality of goods that we produce here.

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  • I think there is a only limited scope for the revival of U.K manufacturing unless we can make a garment for the same price and quality as other countries and that isn't going to happen. The top end of the market can get away with it, but that's pretty much it.

    As for 'Made In England', would you buy a jean that had been made in the U.K? Quite.

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  • Victoria has it spot on as per usual. Young people are not interested in manufacturing. Perhaps 20 years ago when children in the countryside still went to work with their parents at 16 it may have but in todays society of social media experts and image consultants etcetc who wants to work in a mill/cutting room/weavers? Nobody.

    This country is currently training more brain surgeons per year than it is cutters.

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