LONDON — While the promise of fast turnaround times means British designers and retailers are keen to source and manufacture their products closer to home, producing in Europe and the U.K. throws up a host of challenges, said speakers at Fashion SVP, a near-shore sourcing production event held at London’s Olympia from Sunday through Tuesday.
In the U.K., one major issue is that factories are often used to operating on a small scale for one or two labels, said Julia Bedwell, product development, buying and production manager at Aquascutum, who was speaking as part of a men’s wear panel on the challenges of sourcing and production. “[U.K. factories] are just coming out of the woodwork,” said Bedwell. “But they have perhaps been pigeonholed [in the type of garments they produce] and working with them involves a lot of handholding.”
Meanwhile Ash Kumar, the creative director of Manchester-based men’s brand Native Youth, said that finding a new generation of skilled garment workers in the U.K. is another hurdle to producing here, with skilled workers often at least “in their late Fifties.” “Of the people we take on, everyone wants to be the new designer, but we need a whole backbone to the company,” said Kumar. Speaking in another seminar, Susie Stone, who designs a line of bespoke women’s wear under her own name, said that she had found that while the individuals making garments “had the skills, the management of factories is very chaotic,” with factories abruptly pulling smaller orders if a bigger label came with a large order. Stone, who eventually assembled her own production team rather than use a factory, said she believed that along with young U.K.-based designers winning much publicized sponsorship and prizes, “perhaps money should be ploughed into the back end of production.”
And Philip Worrall, sourcing, production and development consultant at RBW Consultancy Ltd., another speaker on the men’s wear panel, called on major high street labels and the U.K. government to throw their weight behind training in clothing production. “Arcadia Group [Topshop’s parent company] has invested in design, buying and merchandising but not in the non-sexy [production] side. The high street needs to be working with government to invest in key skills,” he said.