Many European textile and apparel producers are looking to invest in new machinery and people

Many European textile and apparel producers are looking to invest in new machinery and people

High prices, lack of government investment and an ageing workforce are among the challenges faced by European textile and garment producers. But exhibitors at the annual Fashion SVP sourcing event in London are choosing to invest in new machinery and people in the hope of opening up new opportunities. Katie Smith takes a closer look.

Speaking to just-style on the sidelines of the event last month, a spokesperson for Romanian garment manufacturer Katty Fashions said: "Most of the clients want very cheap prices for high quality [products]."

And this is a problem for many European textile and apparel suppliers it seems. Sharon Osborne, customer service account manager at Premier Drapers, which produces garments for women and girls at its facility in Leicestershire in the UK, said getting a reasonable price for a product is the hardest thing at the moment.

Likewise Emir Eskinazi, production director of Turkey-based garment maker Eco Smart Denim, noted that while Turkey is still a hotspot for production for European brands and always will be, "it has to be supported by the buyers and the brands otherwise our business is a very risky business."

The company, which produces 250,000 pieces a month, is searching for customers in the UK to expand its business. "Price is the main challenge for us now in the UK market, but we are searching for opportunities," Eskinazi noted.

Tunisian women's wear manufacturer Malle Concept International shares a similar view. Marketing director David Rene Rodriguez said: "Prices are one of the biggest challenge and at the same time we're talking about sustainability, and how we can improve, but sustainability is very expensive."

He explained that it costs more to install solar panels than to buy electricity from a local company. But at the same time, rising prices in China represents an opportunity for Malle Concept. "We see a lot of clients in Europe starting to call us as China is very expensive." 

Rodriguez added: "Now we're seeing more orders so we need more employees".

Malle Concept is not the only group investing for the future. Abdul Surtee, director of UK-based garment manufacturer Sequin Designs, believes the government "needs to do a lot more in the industry". The fashion sector is a big industry in the UK, he said, adding that not enough young blood is coming into it and this is an area that needs to be pushed.

The company, which produces 60,000-70,000 garments per month, supplying high street retailers such as M&Co as well as some independents, is looking to change this.

"At the moment, we've got a recruitment drive...we're always looking for the right people and give the opportunity to train up new people as well," Surtee said.

Garment supplier Fashionwear Manufacturers Ltd (FML), which owns two factories, one in the UK and one in Tunisia, is also investing in people and machinery. "As a company, we've always invested heavily in machinery because your tools are your business, and people as well," company director Bhav Mandalia explained.

The firm, which produces 500 pieces per week at its UK facility, is looking to start a small academy to encourage younger people to have a career in manufacturing and retain skills.

Garment producer Studio One, which is part of Fashion Fabrics, believes investment in new machinery is key to creating an even faster supply chain.

"It's all about fast fashion so we need the right sort of machinery to turn things round a lot faster, and we're also investing in new people - trying to get people into the industry so they start becoming aware and they have a better understanding of the whole operation," a spokesperson for the company said. 

But, he acknowledged, getting the right people is "quite difficult". 

And with some brands and retailers moving some of their sourcing closer to home, these companies hope the investments they are making will help them capitalise on this trend.

Mandalia said FML is seeing increased demand from retailers, which not only helps the UK and European industries, but also achieves quicker lead times.

Meanwhile, Premier Drapers hopes the ‘Made in the UK' momentum will continue to grow and "will do a lot for UK production", according to Osborne.

"From our point of view, we would like to see more clients looking for UK manufacturers," she said. "There are pluses with UK manufacturing, lead times being the biggest one."