Exhibitors at newly rebranded London sourcing event Make it British Live reported higher footfall this year prompted by greater interest in supply chain transparency.
The 200 British fashion, textiles and homeware brands and manufacturers exhibiting at the show, formerly known as Meet the Manufacturer, reported a positive mood, and an increase in visitors numbers thanks to the related trends of sustainability and traceability across clothing supply chains.
Kate Hills, who launched the event in 2014, said: “It has been our busiest show yet by far. It has been fantastic. We had a lot of new exhibitors this year. One of the challenges is that exhibitors often do so well from the show that they can’t make it back, as they are too busy.”
The two-day event on 23-24 May at The Old Truman Brewery in east London welcomed more than 5,000 visitors, including high street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, etailers such as Asos, independents, start-up designers and students.
Exhibitors praised the rise in visitor numbers.
Hill said British manufacturing offered greater visibility and traceability in supply chains: “It is brilliant because the more that manufacturers are asked about authenticity and traceability across the supply chain, the more they will shine a light on it. Often manufacturers are not used to talking about themselves, but now that people are asking those types of questions, the UK manufacturers have a lot to offer in that area.”
Sock manufacturer Lowes marvelled at the ability to identify elements of its chain at the trade event, pointing out nearby exhibitors who contributed to its end products.
Sales director Martin Lowe said: “It is a slightly different trade show, as you are looking at a manufacturing-base dedication rather than selling product. What is great is that now we are a manufacturer using companies like English Fine Cotton and Blackburn Yarn Dyers, both of whom are right beside me. They are spinning, dyeing and we are making, so it is just fantastic – you are here as a collective to sell a product.”
Attendees were found to be generally optimistic about the state of the industry.
Guernsey knitwear manufacture Channel Jumper account manager Jessica Matthews said: “The mood has been enthusiastic. I think the people that we have been talking to are trying to come up with innovative concepts on existing ideas, so they may not have a massive presence on the high street, but they are still looking to do business in clothing and fashion. I wouldn’t say there is any negativity, really. There is plenty of interest in wanting to develop new brands, which is always a good thing.”
Another key focus was exports. During a panel discussion with designer Nigel Cabourn, John Smedley managing director Ian Maclean and Tiffany Rose director Christian Robinson, Japan and Germany were identified as core export markets for made-in-Britain products.
Maclean said: “Tokyo is a focus for the whole of Asia: Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, even Malaysians are coming to Tokyo to see what fashion is available there and taking it to their own market.”
However, a key challenge has been the rise in popularity of online shopping platforms, which has led to a levelling-off in pricing structures. Traditionally, said Maclean, brands could charge more for items shipped further distances to offset duty and delivery costs. However, with the globalisation of ecommerce and the ability to compare pricing between different countries, customers have become unwilling to accept large differences. Businesses need to adjust operating practices accordingly.
Jess Malone, retail manager at headwear supplier SL Black Label, said that overseas markets are not always the secret to success: “The market has remained steady and good for us – we have experienced a lot of growth over the last year. Our UK side of the business has really grown, because we do some UK and some Far East. But the UK side has really taken off for us with the quick lead times.”
However, British manufacturers face challenges, one of which is balancing production requirements with growth.
Hills explained: “One of the biggest challenges for the manufacturers is being able to grow their businesses at the speed people are interested in their products. We collaborated with the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) this year, because we thought it was really important to talk about skills.”
Robert Mackie of Scotland, the UK’s third-oldest textile company, has struggled to meet demand as the business has grown.
Senior executive Gavin Walker said: “As a company we are growing and our biggest challenge is making it all. Price is a difficulty as well. We hear all this talk about wanting to move things back to the UK, and that is great, until they find out the price to do that and decide to keep foreign manufacturers. Price is a big issue, but it is not as big an issue as it has been in the past.”
Another key challenge facing the sector concerns the ethics of the fashion industry.
Jenny Holloway, founder and chief executive of London manufacturer Fashion Enter, argued that British producers needed to be willing to turn down deals if they felt compromised: “When the terms are not right or ethical you have just got to say no. There is nothing wrong with fast fashion. There is something wrong with cheap fast fashion. From an ethical point of view it is absolutely right to reduce the quantity, so hopefully the retailers will sell out and the discount margin will be better and we haven’t got that issue with throw-away fashion.”
Overall, most exhibitors believed the event continued to improve in terms of quantity and quality of visitors and exhibitors each year.
Luxury wool manufacturer Abraham Moon & Sons sales manager John Harrop said: “This is our third year, and it has got busier and busier. Last year we actually took orders at the show, which we do not usually expect to do.
“The show is a really good opportunity to cast the net wider. On the tidal wave of buy British, make British, it is a wonderful chance to meet new customers.”