Big retailers need to make British manufacturers a fundamental part of their business model in order to help grow the sector from a ‘cottage industry to real industry’, according to Patrick Grant, director of Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons and E Tautz.
Speaking at the first day of the Meet the Manufacturer UK sourcing conference today, Grant acknowledged that, while consumers have fallen in love with the romance of ‘Made in the UK’, manufacturers are being supported by smaller UK brands like Albam, Folk and Margaret Howell and not big high street retailers.
“Large retailers need to stop thinking of British manufacturing as a romantic add-on to their sourcing as a fundamental part of their business,” said Grant.
“By mass manufacturing I mean going from runs of several hundred to several thousand, rather than tens of thousands. We need to turn small manufacturers into big players and fill towns with jobs. This will come from developing long term partnerships between the retailer and manufacturer.”
The increasing appetite for British made products has helped Meet the Manufacturer double in size for 2015, to include 100 exhibitors from across the fashion and textile industries.
Over 3,000 clothing brands, retailers, buyers and manufacturers are expected to attend the two day show, which is being staged in Tobacco Dock, London.
“We’re expecting lots more buyers this year because I think the penny is finally dropping about the need to invest in the British textile and garment manufacturing,” event founder Kate Hills told Drapers.
“Our aim is to be the number one sourcing event for UK manufacturers. We found that half of our exhibitors had never shown at a trade show before Meet the Manufacturer because there was nothing out there for them.”
Marks & Spencer’s head of innovation and quality Simon Colbeck showed his support for UK manufacturing, adding: “The UK is the seventh biggest supplier to M&S and we use number of significant UK manufacturers in our supply chain, particularly in hosiery.
“The fabric supply base in the UK is also amazing. Essentially it’s all about customer choice, so we need to offer UK products to our customers. UK manufacturing offers speed to market, as well as unique or bespoke products with a heritage story.”
Director of Leicestershire garment manufacturer Basic Premier Mick Cheema agreed that the ability to react swiftly to trends is the main advantage of UK manufacturing. Cheema, who employs 95 staff and makes 35,000 units a week on a two to four week lead time, is targeting a weekly production of 100,000 garments.
“UK retailers need to show loyalty to UK manufacturers as part of a long term strategy,” Cheema argued. “Retailers need to be prepared to pay a fair, ethical price. If retailers were willing to pay 30-40p more then mass manufacturing in the UK will happen.”
Simon Berwin, managing director of suit manufacturer Berwin & Berwin, was more sceptical: “We needed this support for British manufacturing 30 years ago and I worry some of these conversations are in cloud cuckoo land.
“Multiple retailers don’t want to talk about ethical prices, they just chase margins all the time. We need to accept that the UK is good at niche manufacturing, but mass manufacturing won’t work.”
Director of Northwest textile champion Alliance Project Lorna Fitzsimons agreed that a future business model based on volume manufacturing in the UK would be “questionable”.
“The UK’s strength is in niche manufacturing, which should not be overlooked.
“Of course there has to be a balance, mixing some bigger runs alongside the niche production. We need shorter runs and more lines, and retailers must think intelligently about their procurement.
“Longer term strategies will allow manufacturers to plan ahead and in general there needs to be more flexibility across the whole supply chain.”