Brexit & The Made in Britain Manufacturing Revolution
I can hardly say the B word…Brexit! Constant reports, hard v soft, Juncker v Davis, Tory infighting…it’s overkill! But the translated affect Brexit has had on us cannot be ignored!
We are Fashion Enter Ltd. An award winning social enterprise that has the first skills training academy for garment production in Europe twinned with a live working factory. We produce up to 10,000 garments a week.
In the factory we have almost 50 sewing machinists mainly Eastern European in origin. In the total at the factory we have ten different nationalities.
Jenny Holloway at the Factory in North London
I know how incredibly skilled these machinists are, however the majority of the public, and no doubt government, would relate our machinists job role to a Coronation Street sweatshop!
The stitching skills required do not exist in the UK born and domiciled resident of today. Following the off shoring of garment production in 1980’s onwards by the big retail multiples the garment factories in Barnsley owned by S.R.Gent, Burnham in Nottingham et al all closed down. This resulted in the loss of 1000’s of production skilled jobs – many British women aged 40 plus whose daughters followed them into the same craft. All lost. Generations of irreplaceable skills.
However, with the rise of the etailer this has produced the demand for fast QUALITY fashion – a niche market requiring garments to be made within 3-4 weeks from garment concept (illustration) to final delivery. Off shore (e.g. China) and near shore (Europe) does not provide the etailer with the flexible supply chain required from the buy-now-refuse-to-wait today’s consumer. Only the UK can provide this service especially when the big hitting fabric suppliers primarily based in Leicester can now provide any digital print in any colour in any quantity within just 5 working days. It’s a dream team for etailers and the fashion trendy consumer. Small buys of ‘must have now’ products has created a new breed of garment manufacturer whereby they are nimble. They are responsive to market trends and forces. The order book is only ever six-weeks in advance but it works!
It works however because of an imported work force. The sewing machinists are vital and most are from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. Hard working, highly skilled women who have been steadily coming from East Europe with their families for a ‘better life.’ That was of course before Brexit!
Before Brexit, most weeks, we would have the rat-a-tat on the factory door with vital new machinists requesting work in our ethical factory. Following RTW, Right to Work documentation, we constantly employed more and more machinists feeding the hungry retailers and etailers. Orders were going through the roof!
This rat-a-tat virtually stopped overnight with the announcement of Brexit. A proud workforce that knows the value of their skills; that knows that the traditionally born British national does not possess these skills and worse still doesn’t want to even attempt to build on this skill base of garment manufacturing. It’s a dreadful situation that really had the writing on the wall years ago.
This is why in 2015 we opened the Fashion Technology Academy with ASOS.com and Haringey Council. A unique learning environment whereby DWP Job Centre Plus claimants can now learn stitching and pattern skills and be guaranteed a trial for a job next door in the Factory. It’s a slow drip to recruit for the Factory but the accredited training courses are a big hit.
So Brexit, so far, has been a dual-edged sword. Our enquiries for fast track quality fashion have never been higher but our workforce is not growing at the same level to support the demand. We have a stable workforce and only lost three production ladies after the Brexit vote. Most of the ladies have children here happily learning in the British education system who want to stay in Britain. Others have British born children who have no affinity with their parent’s original homeland. They regard themselves as British. Skilled British at that!
So now is the time for Government to show their support for this growing sector. What the garment manufacturing sector really needs is government intervention especially in London and Leicester! Invest now in STEM related subjects within secondary schools – embrace garment manufacturing and open up a whole new world of opportunities for engineering and manufacturing right here in the UK.
By Jenny Holloway CEO of Fashion Enter Ltd and FashionCapital
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