In the post-credit crunch generation of UK manufacturing, “Best of British” doesn’t stop at our renowned whiskies, cars and planes - our textiles goods have also achieved greatly.
There has been ten successive years of export growth in textiles, where its annual growth stood at 11.8% in 2013, equivalent to £10bn. According to UK Fashion & Textiles Association, sales across the clothing and garment-making industry surged 20% in the past four years to £11.5bn. Many of the UK’s textiles manufacturers both witnessed and enjoyed a change in appetite from retailers, as well as international consumers, towards our wool yarns, fabrics, garments and shoes in the recent years. Today, “Made in Britain” equates to real value, quality, craftsmanship, endurance and ethical production- the true spirit of modern luxury, and what the fashion-savvy consumers are after.
Skills shortages have always been a top concern among UK manufacturers, and textiles manufacturers are not excluded. After all, most of our textiles manufacturers have been losing out to their counterparts in China, India and other emerging economies since 1970s, especially in the mass production market. Now the sector is set to revive, the pool of talent seems not be able to keep up with demand.
I visited Fashion Enter Ltd in Haringey recently, one of the many aspiring pioneer of textiles manufacturers. The clients of this award winning social enterprise include many of the best-known British brands, with a few more prestigious labels knocking on their door. Their CEO, Jenny Holloway, struggled a lot from the lack of talent and skills gap at the beginning of running her business, which made her determine to bring back and create the lost skills in textiles. They won approval for a new Fashion Technology Academy (FTA) last summer, an expansion of their current Stitching Academy, due to open next month. They proudly offer training for young people which fall into the NEET category (Not in Education Employment or Training), and they also run the first ever National Apprenticeship in Fashion and Textiles Apparel scheme. In four years time, they are expecting to train over 1600 people per year.
On top of that, she has been involved in the Teach Too programme, which aims to train the industry experts up to teach people their expertise, contribute to curriculum development, and yet continue with their work. It is a dynamic concept of bringing together employers, colleges and training providers, and potentially would yield business benefits of working together. It is commissioned and funded by the Education and Training Foundation, and its Phase 2 was launched last month by The UCL Institute of Education (IOE), in partnership with the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP).
Fashion Capital has also filmed 140 videos, which will go on Moodle (an open source learning platform) this year, aim to gain some international exposure of the business, as well as to educate the public what modern textiles manufacturing in the UK is like. Jenny believes that “Made in Britain” is not merely a label, the manufacturers and retailers both bear a duty of care in it.
All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group is going to have a Parliamentary launch of The Alliance Report: Repatriation of UK Textiles Manufacture at House of Commons this afternoon. I am sure you are as excited as I am about the findings of this report. Meanwhile, have a look at your wardrobe, take out a British made garment, and wear a proud smile on your face.