Bruce Montgomery, Menswear consultant and professor in design craftsmanship at Northumbria University.
The British fashion industry generates about £21bn for the economy but mostly from products made abroad. Yet UK manufacturing has paid dividends for those brands, such as Albam or Nigel Cabourn, that have resisted the trend for cheaper prices in favour of using factories in Manchester, the Midlands and the Scottish Borders.
Some of the best factories are in rural areas. So instead of your Boris bike, get on your Brompton bike (made in west London) and go and see for yourselves.
Examples include Johnstons of Elgin, which produces cashmere scarves and shawls for luxury brands such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Burberry under a Made in Scotland label. John Smedley makes all its knitwear in its Derbyshire factory. Footwear brand Grenson’s Rose collection is made in Rushden, Northamptonshire. Quality outerwear can be sourced from Cooper & Stollbrand in Manchester and formal suits from Cheshire Bespoke in Crewe.
Manufacturing needs government support however, as rent and rates are high and bureaucratic red tape is abundant. The introduction of small tax breaks and incentives to make it attractive to the next generation to enrol in an apprenticeship would help; creating jobs, saving skills, giving a sense of pride and a point of difference.
Some major brands have committed to return a certain percentage to UK sourcing, but it is only a few. If all British-based brands had just 10% of their production in the UK, it would help create a sustainable manufacturing base.
British manufacturing is not cheap, but for a lot of better-end brands margins and market price points are still achievable. In product areas other than fashion, initiatives such as Made North and Make it British are flying the flag, so whether it is Made in Manchester or Made in UK, surely it’s time for some self-belief in making at home again.