How the top retailers are leading the way in bringing garment manufacturing back to Britain

September was an amazing month for the World of Fashion!

Anyone who’s anyone gathered at the Fashion Capitals of the globe for week long events where Designers, Brands and Industry Experts came to display, show off and sneak a peek at the latest collections for the Spring/Summer 2014 season!

These now bi-annual international fashion weeks are an excuse to celebrate this multi-billion fashion industry worldwide, with a splash of style, creativity and pizzaz! London Fashion Week alone is estimated to have a direct value to the UK fashion industry and the UK economy of £21 billion.  London Mayor Boris Johnson has even said that “London Fashion Week offers opportunities for even more designers than ever before, but it’s not just about how creative and stylish we are, it’s a big moneyspinner, bringing in orders from around the globe and generating billions for our economy”.

The UK fashion industry is estimated to support 816,000 jobs and is the largest employer of all the creative industries, but if you step outside the bubble of high fashion a different picture emerges! A dramatic and rather worrying reality is that the UK’s garment industry is said to have almost died out along with the generations of skills it has cultivated.  John Miln the head of the UK Fashion and Textile Association (who represents the manufacturers) states that the “time bomb” of the loss of these skills is “three to five years”.

How have we got a situation where the manufacturing of garments in Britain is close to extinction? … A century ago there were over 2000 textile mills in the North of England, now only a handful survive.  The cheaper labour costs and the lower commodity prices abroad has meant that garment manufacture in such countries as China and Bangladesh has been the main lure for the big western fashion brands.  This decline in the UK textile industry is highlighted by official stats. In 1977 clothing manufacture employed 900,000 people but by 1999 it was down to 130,000 and Government figures now estimate the UK textile industry now employs approximately 100,000 people.  The appeal of working within the industry is said to be “not hugely attractive as you can earn more shelf stacking in Tesco” (John Miln).

With high street giant, Sir Philip Green head of the Arcadia Group calling for support for British manufacturing last year, other big names have also began to follow suit. John Lewis and M&S are launching “Best of British” ranges in the next couple of months and leading brands, Burberry, Mulberry, Victoria Beckham, Aquascutum and Jaeger brands all use “Made in Britain” tags on their products.  Labels such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada are requesting Britain’s wool, footwear and leather factories, which are renowned for their specialist expertise in producing quality goods and for their heritage, craftsmanship, and history in which they want to be associated.  River Island is another high street brand that has brought their work back to the UK in the last 12 months and has this week announced that they have increased the number of items it manufactures at home by around 50 per cent, and that the switch has reportedly “improved efficiencies and boosted sales”.

So why is the UK textile sector starting to currently witness a change?… Developing countries like China and India, with their perceived cheap labour, are now witnessing a change with growing and emerging economies. Workers are starting to demand better working conditions, get better pay and have improved living standards which has led to increased consumer demand within their own economies, which in turn led to increased lead times, making it more difficult for UK companies to respond to the changing demands of the market.  When this is weighed up with the rise in transport and logistics costs, offshore production advantages aren’t as beneficial, therefore increasing numbers of UK companies have started to seek more flexible options of production closer to home!  Maybe this new change will kick start the textile manufacturing revival at a time when the UK economy is low on growth, and a revival of domestic manufacturing would be a welcome boost!

Here at Banana Moon we have noticed this change too! Out of stock garments has meant increased lead times for our customers on occasion, when stocks have run out here in the UK and they have had to be shipped from abroad!  We whole heartedly support the campaign to educate and teach the textile skills of Embroidery and Printing to new generations of men and women and are currently part of the apprenticeship scheme run by the Textile Centre of Excellence.

I hope the skills and textile industry within the UK remain and are preserved so that my children and grandchildren in years to come will be proud to say “that’s Made in Britain”!

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