UK fashion and textiles manufacturers are reporting an increase in new business enquiries linked to the ongoing impact of coronavirus, a new survey suggests.

The survey of members of Make it British, a platform promoting UK manufacturers and British-made brands, found that products being ordered include high summer stock, such as dresses and swimwear, and the raw materials to make winter stock, such as wool yarn and cloth.

“Coronavirus is causing chaos for big retailers and their supply chains as many factories in China remain largely closed, where a large proportion of the world’s fashion brands are made,” says founder Kate Hills.

“A lot of retailers are worried they will have no stock in their stores soon because so much comes from the Far East now, particularly in textiles. They are urgently looking at how they can plug gaps for products that are due on shelves in as little as eight weeks. And that’s where UK manufacturers can offer a solution.”

50% of survey respondents said they had received new business enquires linked to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. 

However, many manufacturers are cautious of taking on lots of new customers. “They fear that the work will be taken away from them again, once the Chinese factories reopen. They have had their fingers burnt in the past by retailers looking for a quick fix to supply chain issues and turning to UK manufacturers for a solution, often expecting to be given the same cost prices as they were paying the Chinese factories.”

The coronavirus outbreak has shown how fragile global supply chains are, with 35% of the UK manufacturers surveyed saying their own supply chains had been disrupted because many of their raw materials come from China or Italy.

Jenny Holloway, who runs the Fashion-Enter social enterprise garment factory in London, describes coronavirus as a “dual-edge sword.”

“There’s been a spike in sampling and we have opened two new accounts for bulk production almost immediately, but the downside has been yarn supplies. This, in turn, has created a further opportunity with retailers panic-buying stock fabrics, which is then coming to the UK manufacturers.  

“Many knitters had bulk yarns in reserves. However, these stocks are going to run out…so what then? Surely this all points to a new type of collaboration between retailers and manufacturers and not before time. We are already aware of one retailer giving shares to their supply base binding them together. It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go yet.”

Hills, meanwhile, adds: “If there is one bittersweet outcome to the tragic situation, it is that this might just be the wake-up call that the industry needs to relook at the wonderful manufacturers that we have closer to home.”

Click here for additional insight on the coronavirus outbreak: Is coronavirus a threat to the clothing industry?