Collaboration between retailers, brands, their manufacturing partners and suppliers is starting to drive a recovery in the UK’s garment making sector. This was the optimistic and overwhelming conclusion of speakers at the recent ASBCI fashion industry conference 'Making it in the UK - Ready or not?
The reality of manufacturing fashion in Britain' held in Leicester. Over 170 delegates from across the supply chain heard how some of the largest fashion retail suppliers, including ASOS, Matalan and M&S are forging long term partnerships with UK manufacturers in a bid to deliver rapid and flexible fashion to consumers.
As off-shore manufacturing costs and ethical issues continue to escalate, the political will of retailers and brands to resurrect a UK manufacturing base is now becoming a viable commercial option. High street retailers along with niche and luxury brands, such as John Smedley and David Nieper, are actively working with colleges, schools and apprenticeship schemes, such as Fashion Enter in London, to train the next generation of skilled workers for careers in clothing manufacture although there is still some way to go to make the sector ‘sexy’ for young people.
Dr Julie King, ASBCI event chairman and head of fashion and textiles at De Montfort University opened proceedings and introduced speakers in collaboration with the conference’s co-sponsors Caroline Ellis, business development, Advanced Supply Chain and Anthony Barlow, support services director, Johnsons Cleaners in association with GreenEarth Cleaning.
Alek Adamski, partner, UK supply chain practice at global management consulting firm Kurt Salmon, set the tone for the day with his optimistic scene setting presentation. After fast tracking delegates through the off-shore manufacturing exodus that began in the 1980’s he proclaimed: “Good news – things are changing and moving rapidly the other way!”
Increased labour and freight costs, difficulties in sourcing raw materials, environmental and ethical concerns and China’s focus on the demands of its domestic market have made UK retailers look again at UK sourcing. Cost to serve he explained is key and retailers have started to understand the true cost differentials in sourcing from the Far East as opposed to the UK.
This is translating into action. John Lewis’ Made in the UK label is now branded on 10,500 garments (July 2013) and M&S, River Island and George Clothing are just some of the retailers who are sourcing from the UK wherever possible. While those in the luxury clothing sector have long been capitalising on their Made in the UK credentials at home and overseas, the volume retailers are now following suit and consumers are helping by demanding quality not quantity.