Partnerships key to bringing back UK manufacturing
Recent talk about high street brands and retailers shifting some of their manufacturing back to the UK requires long-term collaboration with local factories. Petah Marian looks at one such partnership.
In recent months Wal-Mart's George at Asda brand and UK department store operator John Lewis have emphasised the increasing importance of local sourcing to their businesses. And industry research from Verdict argues rising costs and pressure on margins will force women's wear retailers to look at bringing production back to the UK.
However, while the industry consensus seems, at least for the moment, to be that the manufacturing sector will never reach the same heights as 20 years ago, some producers are managing to make successful in-roads into the UK high street.
Not-for-profit manufacturing group Fashion Enter launched its factory scheme in 2010 through a joint venture with online fashion retailer Asos.
The site produces some 5,000 units a week, with around 75% of capacity taken up by Asos, while also producing for brands including Oasis and Torres. The group also has other facilities that make smaller collections for companies like Aquascutum and John Lewis, as well as the The Fashion Studio, which opened in October 2011 at the University of East London and is home to Fashion Enter's apprenticeship programme.
Not surprisingly, Fashion Enter director Jennifer Holloway believes a shift to UK manufacturing is "definitely happening".
The first site opened in 2007 to take an idea and turn it into a finished garment with up to 300 units. Realising 300 units wasn't enough, Asos provided the funding to open a factory which now employs 36 staff and sees "continual production going through," Holloway says.
Asos does not make a point of highlighting the products are sourced in the UK, with the dresses, blouses and jersey tops manufactured by Fashion Enter sitting within Asos' main collections. However, orders remain small, with the retailer's largest order being 8,000 dresses.
While Asos takes the lion's share of production, Hollway says it also supports up and coming designers. "The reason we're a not for profit is about those values and how we bring them through," she emphasises.
Holloway says her fear for the future is the increasing number of cut, make and trim factories "springing up", and that "we are going to get people who are making cabbage, paying the workers cash, and that brings the industry into disrepute".
The partnership between manufacturing and retail is one the industry is keen to promote.
UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) CEO John Miln argues that if the UK manufacturing industry is to see a resurgence, then manufacturers need finance and a long-term commitment from buyers to continue using their factories in order to justify ramping up production again.
"Even if you owned the factory, and had people climbing over your back door to give you orders, then you'd want to know there's a long-term commitment from those individuals to do that.
"You must remember that mainstream UK retailers walked away from UK manufacturing 20 years ago, and they were single-handedly responsible for the significant reduction in capacity as manufacturing moved offshore," Miln told just-style.
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