Retail tycoon Sir Philip Green is in talks with the government to train the next generation of pattern cutters and machinists, by launching a fashion manufacturing academy, Drapers has learned.
In a major boost to Drapers’ Save Our Skills (SOS) campaign, Green invited skills minister John Hayes to see the Fashion Retail Academy (FRA) and is drawing up proposals for an equivalent fashion manufacturing academy.
The FRA is jointly funded by Green’s Arcadia empire, Marks & Spencer, Next and Tesco and equips students who do not wish to take a traditional university route for a career in fashion retail. However, whereas the FRA is entirely paid for by the private sector, the fashion manufacturing academy would be likely to be paid for jointly by the fashion industry and government.
It is not clear how much of the private sector funding would come from retailers and how much would come from manufacturers, but Green’s decision to spearhead the initiative is likely to persuade other retailers that it is worthwhile in business terms to come on board.
Neither Hayes nor Greenwere available for comment as Drapers went to press, but Culture Minister Ed Vaizey told Drapers in an exclusive interview to be published in full next week, that Hayes had been enthusiastic about the discussions.
“He found it a very stimulating meeting. If it was able to progress it would have to be a jointly funded initiative [between government and industry]. I think Sir Philip Green sees it as an opportunity to provide the industry with traditional manufacturing skills,” Vaizey said.
The fashion manufacturing academy would address the void left by universities that axe their technical fashion courses in favour of design-focused courses, which can leave graduates ill-prepared for the practical aspects of fashion design as they are light on traditional, grass-roots skills such as pattern cutting and grading.
The idea of a fashion manufacturing academy was mooted at the open day Drapers and the UK Fashion and Textiles Association (UKFT) held for UK manufacturers last month, but there was little consensus about who might fund it.
However, the UK manufacturers present agreed there is a severe skills shortage which was forcing them to turn away potential orders as some business comes back to the UK.
Last month Green threw his weight behind British manufacturing, saying it was the right time to look at re-opening UK factories and that Arcadia would try to bring more production to British shores.