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ASBCI Annual Industry Conference 2008 press review


Unseasonable and extreme weather patterns, economic uncertainty and critical environmental targets will increasingly impact the global fashion climate for the foreseeable future. Companies were urged to make crucial sustainability changes to their businesses now before governments force the issue. This was the unequivocal message impressed upon the 150 delegates at the 15th ASBCI Annual Industry Conference held in Rugby by eminent out of industry experts from the Royal Meteorological Society, the Bank of Scotland Treasury, parliament and the Soil Association.  From within the fashion industry speakers from Marks & Spencer, Tesco Stores, environmental brand Patagonia, Julia Smith eco-fashion design, Kurt Salmon Associates and Reliance Industries the world’s largest producer of polyester revealed how they are rising to the environmental and economic challenges. Less dependency on China, more European sourcing, emerging sourcing hot spots in North Africa and Russia, ever faster fashion closer to season and catwalk trends, large-scale industrial recycling, reduced carbon emissions and water waste, environmental packaging innovations and new garment design concepts are all evolving as key trading imperatives.  

Diane Waterhouse

Diane Waterhouse, ASBCI conference chairman opened the conference with a dramatic video showing the havoc wrought by 12 months of extreme weather conditions, global warming and the credit crunch. The day conference proceedings chairman Julie King, head of department fashion & textiles at Leicester’s De Montfort University went on to set the scene by explaining that unpredictable weather patterns are putting more pressure on retailers to deliver fashion closer to season. 


Professor Paul Hardaker, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, Rmets, and the UK’s chief adviser on flood risk and extreme weather events explained how climate change is driving significant changes in global weather patterns. This is likely to include more extreme weather events such as deluges followed by flooding and heat waves.  We could be facing a 15 per cent drop in ‘normal average’ rainfall which ultimately will reduce water tables: “Since the 1980s the fraction of the planet’s land surface that experiences drought has risen sharply and climate models suggest that this is likely due to human-induced climate change. In the 2050s and as we approach the end of the century, those areas most affected will be where temperature increases are significant and the amount of rainfall is reducing at key times in the year.  These include north and south Africa, the northern part and western coast of South America and parts of South-East Asia.” This could have a devastating impact on populations in some major garment sourcing regions. On a happier note the forecast for summer 2008 is less “exceptional” rain than in 2007!


Adam Chester, chief economist to the Bank of Scotland Treasury, went on to prepare delegates for the uncertain economic climate ahead. He predicts that the current economic downturn will make trading difficult for up to two years and during which the economy will: “merely flirt with a full blown recession.” He believes consumer spend will continue to slow, exacerbated by a continued tightening of credit, record household debts and low consumer savings, a weakening in the housing market, sharp rise in utility bills, weak disposable income growth, rising import prices and a possible rise in unemployment.  Not the best news for retailers as “discretionary spend on non-essential items” will be the first to suffer. Having said all that, for 2009 he is forecasting a slight upturn in gross domestic product performance for the world in general and some countries specifically including the UK and rest of Europe, US, Japan, China and India.



Sue Butler, senior manager with retail and consumer analyst specialist, Kurt Salmon Associates also adopted a global perspective to identify the latest sourcing trends as revealed by the Sourcing Cost Comparison Study. The 53-country analysis shows that although China remains the world’s largest supplier of textiles and clothing its growth is slowing as costs are rising – its labour costs have increased by 40 per cent in just four years.  Alternatively, exports from Turkey, Bangladesh, India and Romania are growing and new sourcing countries are emerging such as Russia, Vietnam, Tunisia and Morocco. Increasingly sophisticated buying companies are spreading their risk and carefully assessing the costs, time, product strengths, sustainability and ethical performance of each country. Furthermore many companies are looking to European suppliers to achieve their fast fashion goals.


Absolutely says Annette Browne, head of buying women’s casual and knitwear, Marks & Spencer.  She revealed: “We now source from Turkey which isn’t the cheapest but it offers us the response we need.” She went on to explain how M&S fast fashion sourcing and buying strategies are helping mitigate periods of unseasonable weather, economic uncertainty and mark down pricing. M&S has increased its open to buy budget and is forging ever closer relationships with its “nimble and responsive” strategic suppliers enabling it to buy as close to season as possible, buy on trend and achieve 11 major product launches a year. With its fast fashion offer it is transforming itself from a: “‘need it’ driven purchase retailer to an ‘impulse, see it, like it, buy it’ fashion retailer.  Our customers know that if they don’t buy it now it will be replaced by something new in four weeks.” She concluded: “‘Newness’ is a key factor in reinforcing our fashion credentials” and keeping shoppers interested in spite of the weather and credit crisis. 


Emma Gotch, clothing packaging manager with Tesco Stores agrees that new thinking in packaging is both helping Tesco achieve its eco-goals and presenting product better.  With its 3R packaging strategy – Reduce, Recycle, Re-use, Tesco is already exceeding its targets to reduce all packaging by 25 per cent by 2010 and is sending 120million tonnes less into landfill as a result. Simplified packaging with no secondary components, elimination of all laminate plastics and ‘brown’ transit packaging and a major recycling hanger programme are all helping to reduce waste. It is close to launching a new fully biodegradable OPLA packaging for crisp products and is exploring “wash off packaging” and garments that actually incorporate packaging in their design.



In 1993 eco-brand Patagonia was one of the first garment companies to use recycled PET plastic bottles to produce its extreme weather fleeces. Jonathan Petty, UK sales and marketing manager with the $330m outdoor wear specialist explained: “The DNA of the company is to be as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible. We do not pay lip service to environmental issues it is the foundation of our corporate culture – 74 per cent of our Autumn 2008 clothing range contains recycled and recyclable product including polyester, hemp, organic cotton and chlorine-free wool. By 2010 all Patagonia products will be made from recycled and recyclable materials. He stressed: “This would not have happened without the total environmental buy-in from the top.” And he quotes Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard: “Without a healthy planet there are no shareholders, no customers, no employees.”


Similarly, fledgling eco-fashion designer Julia Smith is a committed environmentalist and in her live interview with Dr Phil Sams, consultant to Unilever’s Future of Fashion and Textiles programme, she explained how she is turning her “resourceful,” fair trade designs into a commercial reality with a sell-out collection for Topshop.  Using strictly organic, biodegradable fabrics such as hemp silk, organic cotton and wool from ‘local’ producers, she designs fully reversible garments that can be worn in a number of ways, thereby maximising “wearability.” Off-cuts are made into accessories and her supply chain rigorously fair trade.


Alam Kamil, vice president, technical services and product development of Reliance Industries the world’s largest polyester producer, flew from India especially to address the conference on his company’s 100 per cent New Age polyester produced from recycled post-consumer and post-industrial plastic bottles. He asserts: “No other fibre has such a readily available source of recyclable material.” He showed how global prosperity is driving increased consumption from 5 million tonnes in 1980 to a predicted 51 million tonnes by 2010 and that polyester is one of the most economical and environmentally friendly fibres to produce. Compared to cotton, the manufacture of 1kg of polyester needs 2609 litres less water, uses seven mega joules less energy and produces 1.5kgs of carbon dioxide as opposed to cotton’s 2.3kg. Unlike polyester, growing cotton relies intensely on water, 22,200 litres, and fertilisers and pesticides to grow. The cost of producing 1kg of polyester is £0.78 as opposed to £1.13 for cotton.  “It is easy to recycle and less strain on the environment.”


Lord Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association and an organic farmer in Norfolk, has dedicated much of his working life to sustainability issues.  He explained: “It’s not just climate change that is impacting our thinking on how fibres are produced and discarded. Oil prices are also having an effect. Extracting oil is already becoming a difficult and expensive business and after 2010 there will be a noticeable difference.” This he suggests will have a huge impact on conventional farming methods that rely heavily on oil and gas based intensive materials, particularly with respect to fertilisers and pesticides. Organic farming he believes makes both financial and environmental sense: “You need 26 per cent less energy to grow organic cotton because no fertiliser is used. Organic crops are rotated to avoid diseases…and because they hold water better in the soil they are more drought resistant.” He concluded that existing patterns of human consumption are not suited to a low-carbon, resource constrained future and that the government and international trading bodies were recognising that we must change the way we produce food and products like cotton.



In his specially recorded DVD conference address the Rt Hon John Gummer MP totally supported Lord Melchett’s view and urged delegates to change while they still had choice. Reduce energy and water waste, utilise renewable energy sources and technology and recycle, reuse and replace. Referring to the Stern report on climate change he said: ” The quicker we respond the cheaper it will be.  Companies can absorb costs in normal business evolution. You are going to have to put things right as far as climate change is concerned because governments will make you. At that point it will be harder and more expensive.” Furthermore he added: “Even if you don’t believe in climate change we would still have to do these things because of dwindling resources…There is limited iron ore, oil, minerals so we cannot continue as we are – the raw materials simply won’t be there. Doing more with less is the recipe for a successful business.”



Formed in 1992 the ASBCI is widely regarded as the most active and diverse clothing industry forum.  Its annual industry conference and dinner is regarded at the conference for suppliers throughout the UK clothing supply chain. In addition the association holds regular committee and technical meetings and annually produces several highly acclaimed technical handbooks.  It also runs technical site visits, half-yearly meetings and an AGM with prominent guest speakers, a student conference and seminar programme. It has also formed reciprocal partnerships with the Textile Institute, Society of Dyers and Colourists, SDC, and the United Kingdom Textile Laboratory Forum, UKTLF, to promote greater technical understanding of essential processes within the clothing supply chain.


As part of its role as industry watchdog the ASBCI informs and advises members of new European standards and has liaised with government bodies to create and implement a nationwide technical training programme for the clothing and allied industries. The ASBCI also provides vital networking opportunities at its regular social events such as its high profile charity ball.


Images are available of all speakers on request from Sue Waters susanwaters1@tiscali.co.uk or tel: 01858 555436.


Full transcripts of all speaker presentations will be available to order from the ASBCI office in Halifax.


For more information please contact:

            Stephanie Ingham                                           Susan Waters

            ASBCI Company Secretary                            ASBCI PR

            Tel: 01422 354666                                          Tel/fax: 01858 555436

            Fax: 01422 381184                                         Email: susanwaters1@tiscali.co.uk

            Email info@asbci.co.uk                                 

            Internet: www.asbci.co.uk                                                                             


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