Blog: China cottons on to Wigan
Leonie Barrie | 1 June 2007
For the past few decades the UK textile and clothing industry has slowly seen its textile mills and garment factories cast aside in the rush to relocate production to cheaper locations overseas. Some have simply found themselves unable to compete with the rock bottom prices offered by countries like China and have gone out of business altogether, while others have maintained a design and pre-production presence here and shifted the needle point work offshore as the laws of economics demand.
But is the tide about to turn? Negotiations are underway – and fairly advanced by all accounts – between Wigan Council and the Chinese government to set up a textile manufacturing hub in the town to help Chinese companies get closer to their European customers.
It’s an exciting prospect, and one that will give great hope to the highly skilled workers who still remain in the area. But a lot of questions remain and it will be fascinating to see how they are tackled. What types of products will be made there? What about cost issues? And how will the UK operations complement those of the Chinese investors elsewhere? It’s also a smart move as far as quotas are concerned. China's exports of textiles and clothing to the EU are covered by a voluntary quota agreement that expires at the end of 2007 and may well be replaced with a new raft of restrictions, so having a local production base will help offset any new limits.
For all their cheap manpower and hugely efficient textile and clothing production facilities, Chinese factories can’t change the one thing that increasingly matters in today’s fashion environment: their location, and hence speed to market. Earlier this year supermarket chain Asda said it was going to stock an entire range of clothing made exclusively in the UK under the George brand.
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