SENDING OUT AN SOS: British high-end clothing manufacturers need a boost – at home and abroad – or the industry will continue to decline, according to a new report commissioned by the British Fashion Council, Marks & Spencer and government-funded industry organizations.
The high-end industry currently suffers from a number of challenges: Businesses tend to be small – most are 10 people or fewer – and are missing opportunities to cooperate and network. Some suffer from image problems and need of a lick of paint and better marketing, while others are too small or niche to deal with young designers’ increasing demands as they grow their businesses.
Add to that a skilled workforce that is fast dwindling and a gross lack of overall marketing about the benefits of “made in the U.K.,” compared with countries that regularly crow about their manufacturing, such as France and Italy.
According to the report, in 1980, 15 percent of U.K. gross domestic product came from manufacturing. That figure fell steadily to less than 10 percent at the start of the financial crisis in 2007, with a 60 percent decrease in jobs over the period.
Oxford Economics and Glasgow Caledonian University carried out the research on 137 high-end clothing manufacturing businesses and, not surprisingly, found ample room for growth – and for training a new generation of skilled workers.
The report suggests a 65 percent increase in demand for British-made, high-end product over the next five years that would deliver an additional turnover of more than 400 million pounds, or $603 million at current exchange, and support an additional 1,700 jobs.
It also highlights the need for manufacturing benchmarking and the potential “halo effect” that high-profile, high-end British clothing manufacturers could have on the sector as a whole.
Dr. Kion Ahadi, head of research and evaluation at Creative Skillset, a British charity that works across industries to develop skills and training for individuals and businesses, acknowledged the decline in U.K. manufacturing, but believes the tide is turning.
“In recent years U.K. manufacturing saw a decline as many designers turned to emerging markets,” he said. “However, with an increase in prices, difficulties with communication and unreliable delivery schedules, businesses are starting to see once again the benefits of local production.”
John Miln, chief executive officer of the U.K. Fashion and Textiles Association, said the report is aimed at creating opportunities, translating “made in the U.K.” into exports and communicating the already existing skills and the talents in the industry.