ASBCI Press Conference ‘Made In The UK – Fashioning A Future For British Clothing Manufacturers
“Inspirational”, “thought provoking” and “eye opening” were just some of the superlatives used by industry and press delegates to describe the recent ASBCI industry conference ‘Made in the UK – fashioning a future for British clothing manufacturers’ held recently at the Marriott Worsley Park Hotel near Manchester. Over 160 delegates, from afar afield as the US, listened to speakers who are making a success of manufacturing in the UK.
Speakers from J.Barbour & Sons, Buff Clothing, Cooper & Stollbrand, Courtaulds Legwear, Daniel Hanson Dressing Gowns, De Montfort University, FashionCapital.com, Johnstons of Elgin, Kufner Textil, Lectra UK, NWText, Pentland Group and Shop Direct Group were united in their support for a UK manufacturing revival. They explained how the best creative design talent in the world, a unique and globally appealing heritage and an uncompromising commitment to producing quality ‘niche’ products combined with energy saving product innovations and rapid response production practices have made luxury and volume garment and textile manufacturing a viable proposition in the UK. Delegates also heard how employers and colleges are launching collaborative apprenticeship schemes designed to fill the skill shortages gap and make a career in garment manufacture sexy and appealing to a new generation. While speaker companies continue to pursue new export markets they appealed to retailers to play their part in supporting UK suppliers, thereby creating more jobs and contributing to an economic recovery.
Chaired by Dr Julie King, ASBCI event director and head of fashion and textiles at De Montfort University the conference opened with a characteristically passionate and patriotic presentation on all things British by Katie Greenyer, creative director of Red or Dead, the Pentland Group. She fast tracked delegates through her inspiring career in fashion which was founded on a lifelong passion for print and colour and her exceptional creative talent that caught the eye of such design greats as Wayne Hemingway, co-founder of Red or Dead and Christian Lacroix. She explained that in a bid to constantly refresh its creative edge, Pentland, the biggest employer of designers in the UK, has set up the ‘Design Pool’, where: “we nurture the best design talent in the world.” The Pool gives outstanding design graduates 11 months work, an £18,000 salary, and an opportunity to apply their talent to commercial products. She concluded: “I am proud to be part of a British company…a British business paying British taxes!”
Indeed Britain is best asserts Michael Stoll, managing director of Salford-based luxury menswear manufacturer Cooper & Stollbrand and founder of the military inspired Private White VC brand, but it has to be: “All British with no fudge!” He is concerned that there are too many brands and retailers falsely claiming to be ‘Made in Britain’: “It’s not enough to buy the fabric from Britain and then ship it overseas to be manufactured – that’s not Made in Britain.” He adds: “We try not to buy anything from abroad and that makes us a proper British manufacturer and brand. We don’t just say it on the label. We get our complicated mix of products from local sources. Then we aim at the rich people – money is at the top not at the bottom.” He believes manufacturing will only return the UK if the retailers and consumers play their part and insist on authentic ‘Made in Britain’ products.
It does not get more authentic than Johnstons of Elgin explained James Dracup its group managing director. The company has been making its luxury cashmere-based fabrics and products on the banks of the river Lossie in North East Scotland since 1797. A vertical operation employing over 700 people he attributes the company’s success to five fundamental business principles. Its healthy export business (over 70% of its products are exported) driven by product and design not accountants and independent of the city; investment in product design and innovation; uncompromising commitment to quality with products: “that others find difficult to make”; production flexibility underpinned by an enormous capital investment in plant, people, systems and facilities; and a relentless focus on luxury niche, global markets. Furthermore as an important local employer Johnstons is playing its part in sustaining a healthy local economy.
Ian Sime, director of supply chain, J. Barbour & Sons Limited, JBS, agrees. Commitment to heritage, society and particularly to South Shields, where JBS has been manufacturing its iconic wax jackets since 1894, underpins the company’s business philosophy. At its South Shields head office it employs 95 people and a further 160 at its factory 100 metres down the road. Ian Sime attributes the success of its UK-based factory to two key factors. First its factory, JBS Manufacturing Limited, is treated as a third party supplier. He explained: “Employees are incentivised, not as individuals, but on a factory basis and we have invested in efficiency by introducing a number of new processing and handling systems. The factory receives the same technical support and QC checks as our other third party suppliers. As a result UK factory efficiency is very efficient.” The second factor is sustainability. JBS Manufacturing opened a Barbour Academy in conjunction with Hartlepool College and the Sora Group: “The aim of the Academy is to sustain the manufacturing skills in the region, offering local employment and allowing Barbour to continue to develop its local manufacturing legacy. Students are guaranteed an interview at the end of their studies and some have already gone onto jobs in our South Shields manufacturing unit.”
Indeed job creation and boosting the economy is one of: “Six very sound reasons why retailers should switch the balance of their purchasing from overseas to UK designers and manufacturers” explained Sangita Khan, creative director with Leicester-based volume jersey and knit garment manufacturer Buff Clothing Limited. She set up her family business 13 years ago and includes JD Williams, Matalan, Next and River Island among its clients. The other five reasons to buy British: Local manufacturers can offer immediate response to changes in design or production criteria; reaction to fashion trends dictated by celebrity and social media; “slicker and quicker communication” with on-hand mid-production problem solving; fast repeat production on best sellers; and consumer demand for ‘quality’ Made in the UK products.” She urged retailers and brands to: “Take a deep look at your purchasing policies and put your faith in some of theoutstanding suppliers that exist in the UK.”
What is more volume production in the UK can be more sustainable explained Jonny Mitchell, managing director of Legwear, Courtaulds brands which produces 780,000 legwear products per week. With a full order book that includes M&S and Sainsburys, the Derbyshire-based company is successfully knitting volume product on the tightest margins in an extremely ethical and sustainable manufacturing environment. Indeed it is the first supplier in Europe to be accredited to M&S’s Plan A ‘Doing the right thing’. A £1.2million investment in eco initiatives has resulted in a 32% reduction in energy consumption, 30% reduction in water consumption and a 90% reduction in waste to land fill. It also now sources its raw materials in the UK or mainland Europe and only uses cardboard from sustainable sources. “It is not just about keeping our retail customers happy – it makes good business sense. Our energy and water bills have all been dramatically reduced.” Courtaulds has also invested significantly in its own brand design, development, product innovation and packaging which has allowed it to break into the lucrative US market.
However, cautioned Michael Spenley, director, Compliance Direct Company Limited HK (a Shop Direct Group, SDG company): “Beware ugly ducklings! For some suppliers, ethics get lost in the rush for margin.” Every one of SDG’s 400 global suppliers has to pass a strict ethical and environmental audit in addition to being able to work with its prices and minimums on styles. But there is no preferential treatment for British- based suppliers: “We are a business not a charity and we must deal with UK suppliers on a level playing field with our options open globally.” SDG has found it hard to find UK suppliers who fulfil its quality, cost, delivery and ethical standards. It has only 35 supplier sites in the UK and of these only five are proper factories: “The truth is it’s very difficult for UK factories to compete given the high costs involved and there are plenty who take short cuts.” His visits to UK suppliers have revealed an over reliance on: “highly skilled but transient groups of economic migrants, temporary contracts without sick and holiday pay or other benefits.” This type of workforce he observed is not an existence upon which to build a new industry: “The trick is to train properly and nurture proper skills for proper careers.”
Jenny Holloway, a former buyer with Littlewoods and Arcadia, is now director of Fashion Enter Limited and dedicated to helping young people develop their careers in the fashion industry. She made an impassioned plea for retailers to: “get behind UK manufacturers” in a bid to get more young people into the industry. She is actively supporting this drive back to the UK by encouraging retailers to use the ‘Fashion Studio’ based at the Knowledge Dock at the University of East London, UEL, for design and sample making and then its factory situated in London’s Florentia Clothing Village. Its 34 sewing and technical staff are already producing up to 5,000 units per week for such clients as asos.com, John Lewis, Lipsy, Oasis and Top Shop. The Fashion Studio is also home to a new 18 month Fashion and Textiles Apprenticeship Programme that she is running in conjunction with UEL and employers. Asos.com and New Look have supported the programme which equips young people with the technical skills necessary to support UK-based manufacturing. She explained: “It’s about succession planning for tomorrow and developing a sustainable and reliable workforce.”
Daniel Hanson, founder and CEO of Daniel Hanson, maker of exclusive dressing gowns for the rich and famous, Elton John, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and David Walliams are all clients, observed that: “Getting good machinists and amassing a body of skilled people that can cut, make through, work with a wide variety of different cloths..has never been easy and neither is the subsequent management and maintenance of the costs associated with the vagaries of short runs.” In 2006 he was tempted to move his manufacturing to the Czech Republic but had an ‘epiphany’ and determined: “While ever I was alive, we would retain manufacturing here; as both my own self worth and what I believed would be the future asset of the company, the authenticity of the brand, would lie in its ability to make that which it sold.” It is this commitment to the integrity of the product that has invited international plaudits and success: “We are cited as the Sistine Chapel of the dressing gown world.”
The conference also hosted an expert panel comprising its chairman Alistair Knox, ASBCI treasurer and conference sponsor Mark Lyness, managing director, Lectra UK, and fellow panellists Eddie Jones from Kufner Textil and Michael Bentley of NWTexnet. The panel explained that UK manufacturing is already returning to the UK but is inclined towards niche products and small runs. However as demonstrated by Mark Lyness: “There are tools that allow companies to assess if and when it would be profitable to bring manufacture back to the UK.” It was also suggested that manufacturing clusters could support UK suppliers especially where employers and colleges could work with manufacturers to build a much needed new generation of skilled workers.
The ASBCI industry conference was sponsored by Lectra, the world leader in fashion technology solutions— PLM, design and CAD/CAM software and hardware. Lectra Fashion PLM is a flexible, collaborative platform for apparel life cycle management that brings simplicity and fluidity to product development, resulting in faster time-to-market, more time for creative tasks and increased savings across the supply chain.
The media sponsor for the ASBCI Made in the UK conference was Lingerie Buyer magazine. Established in 1992 Lingerie Buyer is the leading title for the UK intimate apparel industry covering the core areas of lingerie, swimwear, hosiery and nightwear. The magazine is published eight times a year with high quality, independent editorial and authoritative insights into what is happening in the UK intimate apparel sector. The attention to detail and high production values ensure the magazine is an inspirational and invaluable tool for lingerie buyers and brands in the UK.
Formed in 1992 the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry, ASBCI, plays a key technical role within the garment and textile sectors. In addition to seminars and forums on important industry issues, such as sizing and REACH, it organises regular technical/educational visits to companies across the supply chain and produces highly acclaimed technical handbooks, many of which are recommended texts on fashion-related courses around the world. It also runs the UK’s largest and most successful student conference and seminar programme. In order to promote greater technical understanding of essential processes within the clothing supply chain it has formed reciprocal partnerships with the newly formed UK Fashion and Textile association – UKFT, Textile Institute, Society of Dyers and Colourists – SDC, and the United Kingdom Textile Laboratory Forum – UKTLF.
Some photos from the conference:
Ian Simes,director of supply chain, J Barbour & Sons
James Dracup, managing director, Johnstons of Elgin
Jenny Holloway, director, Fashion Enter
John Young, Bank of England Agent – North West
Jonny Mitchell, managing director, Legwear Courtaulds Brands
Mark Lyness, managing director, Lectra UK (part of panel)
Michael Spenley, director, Compliance Direct Company Limited HK, a Shop Direct Company
Stephanie Ingham, receives a surprise presentation from Alistair Knox, ASBCI treasurer and Julie King, ASBCI event chairman in recognition of her MBE for services to the UK fashion industry