David Nieper, one of the UK’s last remaining vertical fashion manufacturers, is working to boost jobs and skills in its hometown of Derbyshire with a campaign to create 30 new roles in fashion production and roll out an extended fashion and textiles apprenticeship programme this year.

The company, which designs and manufactures luxury apparel, halted production of its fashion collections at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to support the NHS, supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) to 27 British hospitals.

This year, it has a renewed focus on creating sustainable fashion and is recruiting and training more dressmakers to meet consumer demand. However, as the country slowly emerges from the grips of the pandemic and with social distancing measures still in place, training programmes have also had to change and adapt to comply with restrictions.

“A sewing machine is no longer enough to train a machinist, today we also need a tablet and GoPro,” says CEO Christopher Nieper.

The training cycle works on a ‘plan–do–review’ method using video clips. Cameras are now positioned within the sewing rooms to capture the experienced machinist’s techniques on film, with the footage then reviewed on a tablet by the trainee to demonstrate best practice.

“Jobs and skills have become a casualty from the pandemic, however, with some ingenuity these obstacles can be overcome to allow business to move forward,” Nieper says.

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“As a nation, we are seeing mass unemployment with most jobs hugely oversubscribed, yet in textiles recruiting skilled people remains our single biggest problem. In recent decades the textiles industry in the UK has shrunk beyond recognition, resulting in fewer skilled dressmakers.  

“However, increasing pressure on Government and the industry to support sustainable fashion in the UK, means that British fashion production is now a growth industry, and increasingly offers a wealth of career options.”

David Nieper is looking for dressmakers of all abilities – from experienced seamstresses, to complete beginners, hobby dressmakers, and those who wish to totally retrain.   

All new-starts will be given on-the-job training at the David Nieper Sewing Academy to assess abilities and to learn new skills before they graduate into the sewing rooms. 

In addition to the recruitment drive, the company is also preparing to roll out an extended apprenticeship programme to include other textiles roles in addition to sewing machinists. Apprenticeships on offer will include Level 2 and Level 3 garment makers, material technologists, material cutters, and knitwear technicians.

David Nieper became an officially recognised apprenticeship-training centre, monitored by Ofsted, last year.

A webinar hosted by the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI) in partnership with e-learning platform Motif last year, discussed Why UK clothing sector must work to bridge the skills gap.