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Talking Business: Retailers need a domestic sourcing strategy

There is a lot of noise from government and organisations about bringing garment manufacturing back to the UK but, although there are some movements in the right direction, retailers are too often looking at their supply chains with a short-term view.

It is no secret that the summer was hard for the high street and sales struggled in almost all categories. Like many other suppliers, I have never known it to be so quiet.

As it can take as little as three to four weeks from concept to garment delivery, it is now all about open-to-buy budgets and in-season buying. These shorter lead times mean retailers are increasingly responsive to sudden changes such as the weather. And after last year’s mild season, they are definitely erring on the side of caution.

However, a factory can only work if it has regular orders and to do that there needs to be a fairly stable flow of work. We’ve developed something for our Haringey factory in north London that we call the 3 x 4,000 rule, where at any one time we need 4,000 pieces on the cutting bench, 4,000 with machinists and 4,000m fabric waiting to be cut, to be able to work effectively.

Unless the supply chain works together to ensure a continuity of work, the infrastructure won’t be here on our doorstep when it is needed to ramp up production again. As we know from what happened in the 1980s, when mass manufacturing was outsourced to the Far East, once we lose the skills base it can take years to get it back again.

Retailers need to develop a domestic sourcing strategy that works, which includes having monthly meetings with suppliers to plan upcoming orders and manage the flow of work for the quieter times in order to sustain supply.

Made in the UK is, and can continue to be, a competitive reality, but only if we build a sustainable relationship between retailers and suppliers for the long term, which all starts with some open communication. Let’s get the conversation flowing to keep it that way.

Jenny Holloway is the founder and chief executive of not-for-profit organisation Fashion Enter.

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