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Need for speed can accelerate the UK’s manufacturing revival

This week I took part in a really interesting event in Westminster looking at how the UK can best capitalise on trends in the global market.

The day was very enlightening and the debate was lively, and for me it helped to galvanise some of the key challenges facing the fashion business internationally at this time.

The first of these is fashion businesses’ reactions to rising manufacturing costs in the traditional heartland of China, where wage increases and the growing middle class are leading many factories to move to domestic production or raise their minimum orders for UK retailers.

This has led many retailers to review their sourcing options and there have been a number of changes in the supply chain as a result. Some UK retailers are looking to Eastern Europe, India, Turkey or northern Africa, and some have upped their orders of UK-made product.

In doing so they have begun to see the practical benefits of manufacturing in the UK – and many of them like what they see. The speed at which trends now move, and the rate at which consumers expect something new, means sell-through – critical in the current climate – now depends in large part on the length of your supply chain.

With warehouses at this time last year brimming with unseasonal stock as the warm winter took its toll on sales, many retailers have learnt their lesson and UK manufacturing now makes more sense commercially.

With the option for delivery within two weeks in many cases, this speed to market is a real commercial advantage, arguably offsetting the additional cost of the product itself.

Until now we on Drapers have spoken about the newly competitive luxury market looking to the UK, and even some niche branded mid-market product such as Mary Portas’s Kinky Knickers brand, but we’ve not dared to whisper that fast-fashion, larger-scale manufacturing might return to the UK in a big way.

I was therefore fascinated to hear from one of my fellow speakers on the day, New Look’s head of international partnerships Mark Eve, who chairs the Global Retail Forum, that major players in Chinese manufacturing are looking to open UK factories in the future.

And what of the UK’s reach the other way into emerging global markets? The discussions again raised some very interesting questions over the lack of information and advice for businesses looking to make the move. UK Trade & Investment – the government department set up to guide international ventures like this – does a great job on the ground, was the consensus. But not a lot of fashion players know about its existence or how to take advantage of this support. If UK fashion is to fully capitalise on the growth of BRIC nations, the Government will need to step up, and indeed more effectively promote, its support and guidance.

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