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Step Up & Save UK Manufacturing


As an industry there is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the UK manufacturing hard. However, despite all the depressing figures, such as lost revenues from £118billion to £88billion, the situation has accelerated a growing demand for UK based production.

The need for speed to market, making stock in smaller quantities and then repeating once sold out, is something UK manufacturer’s can do very well. Disruption in trade with China and increased costs in supply and containers has highlighted the need for reliable production closer to home.

Fashion-Enter Ltd London Factory

Fashion-Enter Ltd’s Production Director Caroline Ash recently discussed the issue with a group of students. She said the pandemic had been something of “a double-edged sword.” Trading, generally speaking has been uncertain, and it won’t be until July before sales pick up, with the future landscape generally difficult to predict. However, the combination of PPE contracts and the rising demand in online fashion sales has ensured a continual workflow for the factory. CEO Jenny Holloway agrees, she has noticed more enquiries at the factory from UK brands now considering UK sourced producers to avoid exposure to long, distant supply lines.

The UKFT (The UK Fashion & Textile Association) recently published the latest UK manufacturing statistics. The data compares figures from 2016 to 2019 and reveals an upward trajectory in terms of production and exports.

From the report:

UK fashion and textiles exports continued to perform well in 2018, continuing the upward trajectory to stand at 9.7bn. This represents a 66 per cent increase since 2008. Interestingly, whilst textiles exports have performed well, it has been apparel exports that have driven much of these increases, more than doubling since 2008.

Exports by global region Looking at the markets for these textiles and apparel products, the European Community remains the largest export area with £2bn worth of textiles and £5.4bn worth of apparel goods exported there. The Asian, North American and Middle Eastern markets were also significant for textiles and apparel manufacturers.

Exports by top 20 individual countries The data from HMRC also gives us an indication of the top 20 markets for textiles and apparel. Textiles exported from the UKs largest markets from the UK are Germany (worth £337m), Netherlands (£262m), the Irish Republic (£231m) and the United States (£225m). In terms of apparel, Germany (£1,5bn), the Irish Republic (£1bn), France (£664m) and Italy (£447m) were the largest markets for exports from the UK.

Imports Whilst exports continued to grow, imports of fashion and textiles goods slowed and saw their first decline since 2012, albeit 2018 was still the second highest figure on record standing at over £25bn. Imports of textiles goods stood at £5.6bn, whilst apparel stood at £19.9bn, a slight increase on 2017s figures.

With these figures of growth in mind you would think that education in the fashion and textiles sector would also reveal an increase over the same time period. While data supplied by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, revealed almost 20,000 students were studying on fashion and textiles related courses in 2017/18. By far the largest number are studying clothing/fashion design, with 14,365 registrations onto these courses. Textiles design saw 4,270 students registered on these courses. More technical courses such as polymers & textiles, textiles technology and clothing production saw between them, just under 600 students registered onto these courses in 2017/18. And that’s not all, apprenticeships took a second year of successive drops, in England, there were 160 enrolments onto Fashion and Textiles apprenticeships in 2016/17, the lowest figure since 2012/13 and a substantial drop on 2014/15’s figures.

These figures of course are pre-Brexit and pre-pandemic, however they do reveal how as a developing industry we have fallen short in terms of technical and production training and apprenticeships. Now with demand from brands, etailers and retailers for UK production the industry needs to up its game to provide high quality and ethical manufacturing combined with training and apprenticeship opportunities to establish an industry that has continual growth and longevity.

Thank-you to UKFT for providing the data used in this article.

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