A positive exchange rate boosted UK textile and garment manufacturing in 2017, a new survey suggests, but the key challenge going into the new year will be how to attract workers into the sector.

UK textile and clothing production rose 25% this year, with 50% of businesses reporting an increase in turnover compared to last year, according to the annual survey conducted by Make it British. This comes despite economic uncertainty with issues surrounding the availability of skills for the industry.

“This survey reveals that 2017 has been another great year for the sector,” says Kate Hills, founder and CEO of Make it British. “There is increased interest from overseas and more companies are looking to source locally. As a result, more factories are opening or working longer hours and taking on apprentices to keep up with demand.”

The increase in production and turnover is being helped in part by the exchange rate working in UK manufacturers’ favour. One manufacturer reported: “As the pound loses its value our turnover has increased by 30%.” While around a third of UK textile manufacturers are exporting more than they were in 2016, Make it British believes there is a massive opportunity for growth as another third reported that they weren’t yet exporting.

The workforce, however, remains a concern for many, with two-thirds reporting that the average age of their workforce is over 40. A key challenge for 2018 will be how to attract more young people into the industry – and quickly – with the average employer only having taken on one young person in the last year. Apprenticeship schemes are driving interest, with one respondent reporting: “We have a relatively young staff and support apprenticeships for improving skills.”

Despite this, the survey suggests the future for UK manufacturers in 2018 looks positive, with respondents scoring 3.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 when asked how optimistic they feel about the future of their industry.

One manufacturer reported that “this year has been an exceptional year,” and all the signs are that there is confidence for the future of the industry too. More than half said they are receiving more enquiries than they were a year ago as more companies look to source locally and restore their production back to the UK.

Nearly 100 manufacturers from across the fashion and textile sector were surveyed, ranging from small workshops producing luxury womenswear to textile mills producing millions of metres a year.