UK retailers eye domestic manufacturing skills
UK retailers including Arcadia Group have made the headlines this week over the possibility of bringing some sourcing back home. Meanwhile, a factory in North London is proving that manufacturing in the UK still has legs, through a tie-up with internet retailer Asos.
According to press reports, Arcadia owner Sir Philip Green, who runs chains including Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, is in talks with the Government to establish a manufacturing academy in the country.
The development of a skills-base is part of a drive to nurture emerging young talent into the next generation of production managers, sample machinists and garment technologists - as well as reduce businesses' reliance on foreign suppliers.
Former Littlewoods, M&S and Arcadia buyer Jenny Holloway believes fashion manufacturing is coming back to the UK - and set up training provider Fashion Enter to offers support and advice for designers, retailers and manufacturers.
Living proof of this is a 4,000 square foot factory launched by Fashion Enter in Haringey, north London. It produces up to 5,000 garments for e-tail giant Asos, and says production levels are set to double by the end of the year.
However, Holloway cautions there is an evident skills gap in the production sector in the UK.
She says: "Employees in the production sector are being forced to work beyond retirement age to support British manufacturing as the younger generation is simply not equipped with the necessary skill base to continue the existing quality."
Talk of a manufacturing academy backed by industry leaders will go some way to restoring this skill base.
Sir Philip Green has met with MPs in recent weeks, according to The Daily Telegraph, after carrying out an external efficiency review into state spending last summer. It is understood that a proposed manufacturing academy would mirror the Fashion Retail Academy in London, which works with 80 retailers and was launched five years ago with Sir Philip's backing.
Spokespeople for Arcadia were unavailable to comment on the reports when contacted today (15 April).
Public sector cuts continue to shatter consumer confidence in the UK, but it is possible that new opportunities like apparel manufacturing could provide some much-needed jobs.
Fashion Enter has itself introduced an apprenticeship programme for 16-24 year olds, which is re-launched this summer and has attracted employers including Asos, Jaeger and Aquascutum.
"Our apprenticeship scheme and production units in north London are tackling this issue daily. We want to bring the skill set back to the UK,” adds Holloway.
It's unlikely that major manufacturing groups in the Far East will lose any sleep about UK start-ups, but enterprises like this could boost an economy that spends too much and makes too little.
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