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Turning the Corner – Bringing Manufacturing Back Home


david reay manufacturing northThe UK fashion and textile sector currently finds itself in a situation I never expected to see in my lifetime. Economic pressure from low cost developing countries and the prevailing economics ravaged an industry I held dear. Its collapse in the late 1990’s was so significant at the time popular opinion was that it would never recover. However fashion is a global industry that evolves and the world is turning, and changing; there is no question that there are major trends towards re-shoring manufacturing back home to the UK. The re-shoring trends are visible if one goes to the trade shows in London, New York, Los Angeles, Miami or Las Vegas.  At the Intermezzo and Magic trade shows this year in the U.S. for example, there was a significant emphasis to re-shore U.S. production with a large number of U.S.A. made products.  The same trends are being seen in the U.K.

(David Reay pictured right.)

I established David Reay Associates in the North of England in April 2014 to support the emerging growth of the UK clothing sector. We are a group of highly experienced and talented industry professionals, drawn mainly from specialists who bridge the 20-year gap, which fractured the manufacturing industry. We have been supporting retail, emerging brands and new manufacturers who are energetic and disruptive. We also support the survivors who are re-inventing themselves and our latest conference Turning the Corner – Up North will highlight this message.

Understandably there are obstacles. One thing, which is apparent, is the difficulty I have had to try to prevent both the manufacturers and buyers from looking at things from either a direct product cost stand point or some patriotic demand that may be there.  They have to see it based on the realistic economics and ability to respond in real time to consumer demand in that they would otherwise have large markdowns or missed sales from longer supply chains and high cube containers from the East, as a general rule that value is worth 5 X any incremental cost to have it locally made.  Most understand that principle, however the challenge is few people know how to unlock it from a planning, cost and organisational perspective. My background both in the UK and Internationally allows me to understand how that works, and how to balance UK and Low cost margin sourcing very successfully.

Brands and retailers have to address the changes, today’s end consumer will not accept this in the market place and we have the outbreak of a challenging and disruptive economy. The best news I have heard in decades. It will take time, patience and true commitment for the right reasons to enable the re-shoring to be effective. Initiatives from organisations such as FashionCapital, UKFT, play a major part, as does the Alliance Project who have prepared the most detailed report seen in recent years, and are rightly pressurising for financial support for the sector.

factory overview

Fashion Enter – Factory, North London


Jenny Holloway CEO of FashionCapital & Fashion Enter is adamant that the time is now for production on home soil, she comments:

production“In 1980’s when I was a range selector at M&S 94% of all production was made in the UK. I can clearly remember attending factory visits to SR Gent in Barnsley and Nottingham. I had no idea then how utterly fantastic these factories were. The amount of hard work, investment and skills that these factories possessed were phenomenal. It is only over 35-years later than I can really value how well organised and efficient those factories were. I can remember even now seeing the Ultressa blouses from T43 trundling around on an Eton Hanging System. The blouses were made in such a high efficient production process that I never stopped to even think could these blouses be made more cost effectively, could KPIs be improved. It was so well organised that it was just taken for granted that manufacturing was excellent.  How I wish I could have told the late Peter Woolfe how fantastic his Barnsley factory was. How much do I appreciate now the amazing skill base his workers had.  We have lost generations of skills and the knowledge of setting up and managing a compliant factory is also sadly lost too but it’s coming back!  On-shoring of production is back and its here to stay.

“The investment now in developing the skills via Stitching Academy’s is to so rewarding and so motivating it just gives me personally the biggest buzz! I never thought when I was a Senior Buyer from the Arcadia Group that one day I would be running a manufacturing company that is a social enterprise providing an opportunity to up skill the unemployed. It has been the biggest single challenge of my life and in truth many a tear has been shed when I have found myself completely outside of my comfort zone. However, I would never change a moment of it! The learning curve has been rich and full and the enormous respect I now have for our machinists from Eastern European, China, Malaysia and India is truly engrained in me.

“I just found out that since we developed the Level 1 Stitching award with ABC last year alone 540 people have successfully completed the six-week course. Isn’t that amazing. We have potentially provided a new stitching career to 540 people! These learning opportunities are now expanding to the Fashion Technology Academy where we can now offer courses on ALL aspects of production including patterns, fabric laying and cutting, Stitching Academy 2, Quality Control and lets not forget Machine Maintenance too! This is indeed with thanks to Haringey Council, ASOS.com and DWP. Such support for our vision is really overwhelming.

“It’s now time for the retailers to support this insurgence of home grown machining and production talent and the on shoring of garment making. Look at the green footprint alone! Why fly or ship fabric and components around the world, have the cost of QC visits and finished garment transport costs when you could be making in your own country?  Look at the world economy…with the collapse of the housing boom in China and the price of crude oil now worth half of its value 2-years ago, the uncertainty of the Middle Eastern states and other such economic macro factors which can affect further barriers to international trade – isn’t the manufacturing in the UK now a safer bet? 

“Our SMETA approved factory is totally transparent. We want our customers to have an open door policy and “pop-in” to see their production on our lines. Our factory is improving day by day, we are up-skilling a future generation of stitchers and production management and we are here to stay!”

Kate Hills of ‘Make it British’ is another individual that has done a first class job in raising the subject and profile of UK manufacturing, driving discussion and events in London while academic institutions such as Northumbria University are training tomorrows top fashion and design talent.

sampling large

I am a Northerner, a Geordie, who lived for many years in Manchester. I thought it was time to direct some focus of support and hopefully inspiration to the Textile sector in the North to capitalise on this growing momentum. Turning the Corner – Up North is a conference /networking opportunity that forward looking Retailers, Brands, Manufacturers, Support services and media should not miss. It will provide a forum that will spark debate and instigate action from the industry on a collective basis. The need to communicate and work together has never been more important.  This is your opportunity to voice your views and engage in the discussion.

I look forward to welcoming you at Turning the Corner – Up North Thursday, 11 June 2015 from 13:00 to 16:30 Bury, UK

You can find out more about the conference and register to attend by visiting:


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