Marks & Spencer has ramped up manufacturing of hosiery in the UK, 13 years after it controversially decided to move almost all of its production contracts overseas.
M&S has increased its hosiery orders with Courtaulds Hosiery, which operates a factory in Belper, Derbyshire, to take advantage of
its skilled workforce and technical innovations. Courtaulds-produced hosiery now accounts for about 25% of M&S’ sales of the category.
According to sources, M&S also investigated a larger-scale shift of production back to the UK in Sir Stuart Rose’s final months as chairman and chief executive. It was ruled out at the time, but it is thought that the increase in production at Belper could signal a willingness by new chief executive Marc Bolland to bring other manufacturing back from overseas.
Courtaulds Hosiery chief executive Steve Llewelyn declined to comment, but M&S said it had moved production back specifically to take advantage of technical skills that would be hugely expensive to establish elsewhere, and to help it get innovations to the market quickly.
Because hosiery is produced on circular-knitting machines, it is heavily mechanised, meaning that the higher labour costs associated with the UK workforce have a relatively smaller impact on the overall cost of the garment.
M&S head of sourcing and garment manufacturing technology Krishan Hundal told Drapers: “Innovation is the lifeblood of M&S, and our relationship with Courtaulds, particularly its site at Belper, helps us to continue to deliver first-to-market hosiery.
“There is a highly-skilled workforce that works closely with our product technologists to develop new and innovative products, as well as the quality staples that make the M&S brand famous.”
The Belper factory was one of the worst hit by M&S’s decision to move its production overseas in the late 1990s, which had far-reaching effects on UK fashion manufacturing and led to the closure of several factories. In 1999, Courtaulds Hosiery axed 400 roles, citing M&S’s reduced orders as one of the key reasons.