UK manufacturers have given a positive but cautious reaction to Asda's proposal for Dragon's Den-style 'meet the buyer' sessions for its George brand, after it said it was looking to source more UK-made product.
This week, Asda issued an open invitation to UK clothing manufacturers to come to its offices and pitch for new business in front of a panel of its buyers, in a style similar to that seen on the BBC2 TV show Dragon's Den.
It also said that from April 2 it will label one million garments a year with a 'Made in the UK' swing tag, across George womenswear and swimwear and the G21 line.
The supermarket chain, which will put country of origin labels on all its clothing in the next 12 months, said UK sourcing would enable it to react to trends quicker and respond to consumer concerns about buying locally-made goods, as well as supporting British industry.
However, UK clothing manufacturers were wary of the invitation. Raj Kumar, director of Talk Talk, which supplies knitted and woven product to mainstream multiples, said the idea of finding new business opportunities was attractive, but he had reservations.
"Supply capacity in the UK is saturated. It might look like a great business opportunity, but it will probably be a very tough one," he said.
However, he added that UK-based manufacturers had the edge when interpreting trends. "If you live in the UK and supply the chain stores, you have a much better feel for what customers want and what trends will sell," he said.
Lynn Menzies, sales director of Zodiac Designs, which supplies dresses, tops and skirts to value fashion and mail-order businesses, said her firm had doubled its turnover in the past year as retailers moved sourcing back to the UK to take advantage of fast fashion.
But she warned: "No-one in the UK is geared up to do volume orders any more. It will be OK if Asda wants 6,000 to 18,000 of one style, but it might want 40,000. And the retailer won't get a better price for ordering more - in the UK we pay the same per metre of fabric for one metre or 70,000 metres."
George global managing director Angela Spindler said the UK clothing industry was alive and kicking and had plenty to offer retailers such as Asda. "We would like to do everything we can to encourage new designers and new manufacturers to come forward," she said. "If you have new designs and new styles or garments, we want to hear from you. Our fast-fashion ranges are inspired by the latest catwalk trends, which means we need to turn around our designs into production as quickly as possible. It makes sense for us to use local manufacturers in the UK whenever we can, rather than shipping in product from the other side of the world. There's a huge talent base in the UK, and we think customers will want to buy British clothes in the same way that they want to buy locally produced foods grown and prepared in Britain."