Level 4 Apprenticeship in Fashion and Textiles:Technical
Summary of the Fashion and Textiles sector
The fashion and textiles sector covers the fashion and textiles supply chain, from the processing of raw materials to product manufacture, to wholesale and trading activities and extending to the after-sales servicing of products. It is estimated that the sector in England employs just under 300,000 people across almost 70,000 enterprises. The sector is dominated by small businesses; more than seven out of ten enterprises are sole traders or partnerships with no employees.
The sector has also seen much change over recent years. This is due to the rapid changes that have occurred within the environment that fashion and textiles businesses compete. In the face of low cost competition from overseas, fashion and textiles businesses are increasingly reliant upon the following activities:
- New innovative product development;
- Brand creation and development;
- The international marketing of branded products;
- The application of new technologies in all areas of the business, including design, production, communications and sales;
- Creative design;
- Diversification e.g. entry of traditional textile companies into technical markets;
- Quick response capacity and service performance;
- Low-cost, small scale manufacturing of high added value and difficult to make products.
In a changing global footprint, the sector has recognised the need for vocational progression from the existing modes of delivery to meet industry demand for higher level, technical programmes within a work based setting.
Pathway 1 – Technical Textiles
This pathway looks to equip sector employers with the skills required within technical markets, the production of technical textiles and textiles which are created specifically for their performance rather than their aesthetic appearance. Such industries and activities which rely on nanotechnology, electronic or other innovations, include the manufacture of protective clothing for emergency services, the development of products and garments for medical services ranging from medical splints and bandages to surgical tools, and the inclusion of carbon fibre for aircraft frames.
The economic value of technical textiles is vast and the UK is a key competitor in the global markets. Most recent estimates show that technical textiles contributed almost £4 billion to the UK economy. Supporting this, European Community data gathered by the Technitex showed that in 2007, the UK was ranked in fourth place for technical textiles sales (€1.32b), following Germany (€3.98b), Italy (€3.18b) and France (€2.51b) but just ahead of Spain (€1.08b).
However, if the technical textiles sub-sector is to grow effectively, there is an on-going need for individuals capable of developing and commercialising new, innovative products and processes. The sector needs high-level technical and scientific skills, supported by on-going innovative research and development. The Fashion and Textiles survey of employers in 2008 found attracting science and technology graduates who can help to develop new innovative products and processes with the right practical,commercial and knowledge skills were key priorities moving forward.
This pathway therefore offers an opportunity to forge an alternative route to degree level provision, ensuring highly skilled individuals capable of allowing the UK’s technical textile market achieve its full potential.
Pathway 2 – Product Development and Sourcing
One of the strategies adopted by firms is to place emphasis on ‘innovative product development and balanced sourcing’, where a core component of the manufacturing process remains in the UK whilst outsourcing other elements to developing countries which have competitive price advantages as a result of relatively low labour costs. Signifying the importance of this activity, trade and sourcing figures from HMRC indicate that the value of imported selected fashion and textiles goods into the UK stood at £18.7bn in 2011 with textiles imports valued at £3.6bn indicating the value of such trade.
Additionally, the rapidly changing demands of fast fashion, signified by short production and distribution lead times and the matching of supply with uncertain/changing consumer demand, has placed increasing pressures on manufacturers and wholesalers to supply their retail markets. In many cases, designs are developed for production for each of the four seasons with lead production times of as little as fifteen days from concept to stock in retail stores.
These combined factors mean that successful balanced sourcing strategies require creative design skills and commercial acumen, supported by flexible and efficient production practices, effective communications and marketing within the supply chain and efficient logistics operations. Recent surveys and consultation with employers and industry have revealed that industry currently has great demand for these skills to ensure product development and balanced sourcing strategies can be effectively implemented.
Recent research undertaken into the fashion and textiles sector (NESS 2009) revealed the harsh realities and impact of skills shortages for fashion and textiles employers contributing to:
- the restriction of developing new innovative products;
- difficulties in meeting quality standards;
- loss of orders to competitors.
This pathway therefore offers an opportunity to address the issues above and forge an alternative route to degree level provision, ensuring highly skilled individuals are capable of allowing the UK’s apparel, textiles and technical textile market achieve its full potential.