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High street must support UK factories, says Ben Lewis

The high street must take responsibility and “keep production lines flowing” at UK factories if the manufacturing industry is to stand any chance of grasping the opportunities in front of it, according to River Island chief executive Ben Lewis.

Speaking out in support of Drapers’ Save Our Skills (SOS)campaign, Lewis said the short lead times offered by domestic production were hugely advantageous to UK fashion retailers, enabling them to react quickly to trends and take less risk on product. Stable orders would give factories confidence and encourage them to invest in new technology and in creating a stable workforce, which in turn would improve the quality of stock, he said.

The skills gap factories face from a lack of trained machinists and pattern cutters remained a real concern, he stressed.

Lewis’s words echoed the ambitions of Sir Philip Green, who is investigating bringing some production for his Arcadia Group chains back to the UK. Green is also thought to be looking at creating an education facility similar to the Fashion Retail Academy he founded, which would train students in production skills.

Lewis told Drapers: “There is a bit of conflict in it [the relationship between retail and production]. One is a production industry, the other is consumptive. Retail is at the whims of the consumer. The two must balance out to keep factories busy.

“But if the factories are busy, then they will have the confidence to invest and employ a more stable workforce,” he added.

Lewis said the Government must address the issue of consumer confidence. “If the consumer doesn’t have confidence, the retailer suffers and then all that gets passed upstream [to the manufacturer]. Factories need a sense of regularity on orders,” he said.

Lewis added that factories needed to “understand the needs of retailers and how those needs change”.

“They need to be open to the fact that fashion is difficult and we need style amendments. They need to have good sampling capabilities and be as organised as possible. The advantage they give us is flexibility and speed.”

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