Blog: The battle for British clothing manufacturing wages on

Petah Marian | 26 September 2012

The battle for the future of British clothing and textile industry took centre stage at a conference organised yesterday (25 September) by the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI).

The Olympics has shone a spotlight on the best of British over the past year, and there remains a great affection and interest for this country's heritage brands and textiles abroad. 

The commonly held view has been that UK manufacturing plays an essential role for premium heritage brands like Burberry, Johnson's of Elgin or Barbour, but less so for the high street. 

However, with turnaround times becoming ever-faster, and the cost of manufacturing in China increasing, some are suggesting that a UK renaissance might be due. 

UK manufacturer Buff Clothing's creative design director, Sangita Khan, argued that her company is proof you can produce large volumes in the UK and still make a profit. Her company works with retailers like Next, River Island and Matalan, and emphasised the benefits of producing locally. 

Fashion Enter director Jenny Holloway is another backing the UK industry, with her not-for-profit group servicing between 4,500-5,000 pieces a week for companies like John Lewis, Oasis and Asos. 

However, Michael Spenley, who is director of Shop Direct subsidiary Compliance Direct, warned against companies assuming that the made in Britain sign assures products have been produced to higher ethical standards. 

He said Shop Direct has chosen not to work with certain factories after unannounced visits found one factory's entire staff was off with TB, while another was conducting business and had staff living out of a derelict school, with bedrolls and gas stoves alongside machinery in the factory. 

Yet for all the enthusiasm for UK manufacturing, there remains a number of challenges, not least the ageing workforce. 

Spenley put it best when he said: "If good intentions and positive headlines were bankable assets - the UK clothing manufacturers would be in terrific financial shape". 

This renaissance may still be a few years off. 


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