Kate Hills, founder and CEO of ‘Make it British’

Kate Hills, founder and CEO of ‘Make it British’

Optimism was high among exhibitors and organisers alike at the third Meet the Manufacturer event in London, with the trade show and conference doubling in space to 50,000 sfq ft in order to accommodate more exhibitors, workshops and seminars than in previous years.

"There's an air of confidence in the industry at the moment and Make it British is definitely back in fashion," according to Kate Hills, founder and CEO of Make It British, the group behind London's Meet the Manufacturer event.

"We've been delighted by the overwhelming support for this year's event, borne out by the fact that we had more people attend this time on the first day than attended overall last year. Our workshops, which were new for this year, were phenomenally successful with around 900 people attending them over the two days."

The platform aims to drive demand for UK manufacturing and help buyers and designers to find textile and garment producers in the UK. The event showcased more than 100 British clothing manufacturers, textile mills, leather-goods makers and suppliers to the UK apparel and textile industry at the capital's The Old Truman Brewery. And Hills' enthusiasm seems to extend to the manufacturers and retailers themselves, with a poll carried out by Meet the Manufacturer prior to the event finding that 60% of those asked said "business is better than five years ago." 

Need for expansion

Speaking on the sidelines of the show, Alan Thornber, sales manager at Laxtons, a Yorkshire-based manufacturer of worsted and fancy yarns, told just-style the company is investing in a new mill to meet growing demand. He adds: "The company is busier than ever – we are expanding as we do not have enough space." Laxtons, which specialises in natural fibres, predominantly wool, makes its products in Britain from beginning to end, and has invested in state-of-the-art technology at its new production unit in Guiseley. The company claims that bringing manufacturing back to the UK, as it did in 2010, also has "huge environmental benefits" and enables it to provide a better service with shorter lead times and better management through a greater sense of control.

And it's a similar case in Greater Manchester where English Fine Cottons is launching a project it claims will see the opening of the most modern mill in the world, spinning the highest quality yarns for high-end apparel. Set to open later this summer, the new facility will see the regeneration of a former Victorian cotton mill and is expected to create around 100 jobs.

New UK cotton mill adds to made-in-Britain momentum

Challenges

Nottinghamshire-based Roy Lowe & Sons Ltd, which operates specialist sports sock supplier SockMine and fashion sock brand Roy's Boys, also recently returned to UK shores. Production was transferred back to the UK in 2012, and director Martin Lowe said he believes consumers do not mind spending a little more for items made in the UK. Speaking to just-style along with his son Ben, who joined the business in 2012, Lowe says the UK consumer wants a "product that is cheap but is still expected it to last."

It's a challenge facing many UK manufacturers who compete in a UK market obsessed with fast fashion and low prices.

Another issue facing UK manufacturers is that of cost. "The government could do a lot more such as providing grants for machinery and apprenticeships to get people in at grass roots level," said Russell Shine, director at London-based tailor The Apparel Co. "And the rents are horrific in London – these two are key for me."

Innovation

New for 2016 at Meet the Manufacturer were the Innovation Accelerator and Designer's Den, where businesses could pitch their ideas to a panel of experts live at the conference. SockMine scooped the overall prize, with its innovative approach to developing highly technical socks for sports, such as snowboarding, running, walking or cycling.

The event also operated a series of free drop-in workshops, which proved successful with over 900 people attending them over the two days.

Meet the Manufacturer will return to The Old Truman Brewery next year on 24-25 May.