London’s Fashion Manufacturers are Alive and Kicking
What you may not realise is that behind these world-beating designers is an active manufacturing industry producing high quality clothes for the catwalk and for retail. Unfortunately, this vital manufacturing sector does not enjoy the same level of publicity as the more glamorous designers. There is even a perception that, because of the move to overseas sourcing of high-volume manufacturing, there is no longer a fashion manufacturing industry in London.
Nothing can be further from the truth – London’s fashion manufacturing is definitely not a dead or dying industry. There are many success stories to illustrate that this important sector is alive and kicking. For example:
1.Rahmans (London) Ltd have been making clothing in Bethnal Green since the early 1980’s. The nature of the work they do has changed from high volume, low margin work to low volume, high quality work for London-based designers. They often work very closely with the designers at the development stage of a new range. This has enabled them to build up a reputation for delivering high quality, sometimes very complex garments, often with the deadline of a Fashion Show to meet. To be able to work to a very high quality level, working in close cooperation with the designer and under a demanding timescale makes it imperative to be based in London. Being close to a tube station is a definite advantage. Having worked with the client to make the initial samples, they are also best placed to make the subsequent production quantities.
Designers often find it difficult to find the manufacturer that has the particular experience and capabilities they are looking for. So London MAS (Manufacturing Advisory Service) recently teamed up with Fashion Enter to provide an internet-based ‘showcase’ for companies like Rahmans to display their specialisation. The ‘Manufacturers Online Showroom’ can be found on the Fashion Capital website – www.fashioncapital.co.uk .
2. There are several examples of new companies starting to manufacture in London over recent years: Image Studio Production Ltd won the ‘Top Shop award for Innovative Production’ at the Fashion Expo in November – an event organised for London’s fashion manufacturers as well as designers to showcase their wares; The Sampling Unit has been making high-end dresses for top designers for about 4 year’s now – and is still growing; Goodone have recently been attracting publicity for their innovative use of recycled fabrics to produce a new range of clothes; Catharina Eden has made the jump from designer to manufacturer; Borba Margo are a couple of young designers of belts and accessories who export most of their work, all made in London. London MAS have been pleased to work with these companies in helping them to achieve their goals of growth in the London fashion manufacturing scene.
3. Some successful fashion manufacturers combine UK manufacturing with overseas manufacturing. This enables them to offer the close liaison with designers and retailers that is needed at the ‘sampling’ stage for a new range together with fast delivery for Shows or initial order quantities – based on London manufacturing – while at the same time being able to offer larger quantities at competitive prices from their overseas factories. This business model has been successfully operated by London companies such as Excel Apparel and GGS.
Excel Apparel, in particular, have benefited from an internal review of systems run by MAS specialists to ensure that production information systems are as efficient as possible.
4. One successful designer, Lezley George, has been making her own unique style of ladieswear in the UK for years. Lezley runs factories in London and in Wales. UK manufacture gives her complete control of the high level of quality, production flexibility and fast turn-around when needed.
Staff at the London factory recently underwent training in ‘lean manufacturing’ with London MAS in order to enhance these strengths even more.
5. Many of London’s fashion manufacturers meet the needs of the top quality or couture end of the market, where the personal touch and the ability to respond to the whims of the designers is of high importance. Many others service the retail market for quick turn-around, short- or medium- order volumes to meet fluctuating demands. Some manufacturers design their own ranges, others make samples or production quantities (or both) for designers or for retailers. There are specialists in just about any material or sector that you can think of.
If you are looking for a fashion manufacturer in London the first place to look is the ‘Manufacturers Online Showroom’ on www.fashioncapital.co.uk or contact the London MAS on 0845 850 4400.
London MAS works with London’s fashion manufacturers to improve competitiveness in partnership with other sector-specific programmes and organisations such as: FashionAble; Fashion Enter; FashionWorks; London Apparel; the City Fringe Partnership and the London College of Fashion. London MAS is funded by the LDA (London Development Agency) and BERR (the Dept. of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform).
To find out more about London MAS visit our website www.mas-london.co.uk
Drafted by Nigel Rust, London MAS, April 2008.