Clotech 99 has been described as one of the most important equipment andtechnology exhibitions that has ever been staged for the UK's sewn goods sector. Itstiming coincides with a period of major change and re-orientation throughout the industrywhich is, in turn, slowly giving rise to the recognition that there are stillopportunities to be explored and successes to be enjoyed through a combination of goodmanufacture, exciting design and a close proximity to the retailer.

On this page, Peter Bürge, chairman ofevent sponsor BACMM, presents an objective look at the way forward for Britishmanufacturing, and the key role played by Clotech 99 in addressing the challenges of thefuture.

Clotech 99 is arguably the mostappropriately timed clothing machinery and technology exhibition ever!

You might not have thought so back inautumn 1998 when factory closures were announced on an almost daily basis and UK clothingmanufacturing seemed to pack its bags and emigrate to Morocco, Tunisia, eastern Europe andthe Far East. Although that trend has not been reversed — yet — it does seemthat some rationale has at last entered into the discussions and considerations. And, evenamong those manufacturers who are moving abroad, it is now widely recognised that for alarge number of product lines a strong and viable proportion of their production will bemaintained in the UK.

Of course cost pressures remain a dominantfactor which will reshape our industry, but retailers and manufacturers are also acutelyaware of the consequences of stretched supply lines and what these mean in terms ofproduction and quality control. There also seems to be an appreciation of the need to keepdesign, sampling and merchandising under close control — and, by implication, thismeans close to the retail organisation.

With some fast moving fashion articles aswell as most customised product lines, which are sold at premium prices, short supplylines are essential and so far most of the manufacturers I have spoken to have declared anintention to maintain a percentage of their production in the UK. It will therefore be aquestion of finding the right balance between UK production and imports.

Design Directions

I have recently had the opportunity tovisit a number of medium sized UK manufacturing companies which are bursting at the seamsand continue to expand. The common factor with all of them was a disproportionately largedesign department equipped with the latest technology designed to shorten the gestationperiod of new products from conceptual design and sampling to sourcing, manufacturing anddespatch. The focus at all times was, and remains, on selling new designs at premiumprices rather than discounting long runs!

However, it is not only in the fashionindustry where design is a dominant factor. The same principle applies to themanufacturing of engineering orientated products such as air and sea rescue equipment(like, for example, RFD's latest 'Marin-Ark' life saving system) or the manufacture ofairbags for the automotive industry. Strong designs and rapid response with well-managedshort supply lines are the common factor which link today's successful manufacturers.

Even the most ingenious design does ofcourse have a price point beyond which it loses its attraction to the potential buyer.Equally, shortening the design and sampling process is only of benefit if the subsequentmanufacturing process matches the targets of quick response to the marketplace.

Achieving these twin aims of cost-efficientproduction and rapid access to the market is the function of automated manufacturingprocesses. Be it the rigorous control of the workflow, automated cutting and sewing, orfinishing, warehousing and logistics, at Clotech you will find solutions which will helpyou to protect that all-important gap between optimal sales price and production cost— that is, your profits!

Ultimately, it will be the companies whocan combine good manufacture, good design capabilities and a close proximity to theretailer who will enjoy an advantage. And these companies are the ones who are investingin manufacturing technology to get their designs into the marketplace.

Vibrant Industry

I wonder, therefore, whether the currentrestructuring within the sewn goods industry might lead to a shift of emphasis where wefinally drop the old image of the 'rag trade' for good and project today's fashionindustry as the vibrant, creative and exciting industry in which young talented peoplewant to work.

It is therefore right that at Clotech asection has been reserved for educational establishments to promote their courses rangingfrom design to clothing and textile technology, engineering and production engineering,marketing and business administration. Clothing today is a global business which must makea major effort to attract ambitious young graduates to deal with the creative andadministrative challenges of a modern business.

There are few other industries where thecreative input is so close to the launch of a commercial product, and to control this'traditionally stormy marriage' of creative art and industrial production with the help oftoday's information technology remains an exciting task in a rapidly changing environment.

At Clotech you will therefore find thatsuppliers of machinery and information technology combine to provide interfaced systemsolutions covering all aspects from product development to costing to bill of materials toworkflow and supply line management. Special seminars devoted to these subjects and run byGerber and PDP will address some of these challenges throughout the time of theexhibition.

The will and talent to succeed with 'UKManufacturing Limited' must lie with the industry. The tools and technologies which makeit possible will be on show at Clotech 99 — I look forward to seeing you there.