We interviewed Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion & Textile Association. Read the interview to find out how his organisation helps fashion brands and what they are doing to support UK manufacturers.
Hi Adam, can you tell us a little about the UKFT and what your organisation does?
The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) is the leading network for fashion in the UK. We do a significant amount of work in business development for small fashion brands. We take 700 companies to overseas trade shows every year; help brands break into overseas markets such as Japan and the US; introduce them to the best buyers and retailers in those markets; help them understand the legalities to internationalise their websites and help with the technical aspects of building up a fashion brand. One of the things we also do for fashion brands is introduce them to UK manufacturers. We have a lot of manufacturers in membership, both garment and textiles. We help broker relationships, making sure that both sides understand the needs of the other one. We offer a very specific matchmaking service making sure that the manufacturer that we put the brand in contact with can actually work with that particular brand, whether it be a need for a small production run or specialist technical textiles for example.
You also have a database of manufacturers, can you tell us about that?
We have a free to use database at letsmakeithere.org. It includes around 350 manufacturers, everything from yarn spinners through to cut make and trim. It covers manufacturers from the very North of Scotland, down to Devon and Dorset. It’s got a huge range of manufacturers you can search for by category and specialism.
If I was starting a small fashion brand and wanted to find out about things like finance, would you be able to help with that?
Absolutely. You can either join us as a member or you can come along to our seminars. We run about 50 seminars every year, predominantly in our offices in Central London. They cover everything from how to prepare your business for finance to how to protect your intellectual property rights. We also do round tables on how to work with the Scandinavian market. There’s a huge amount of information that the UKFT supply to both members and non-members because we’re here to help the industry within the UK grow.
Can you tell me more about the manufacturers that the UKFT represents?
We have a number of different manufacturers in membership. We have about 20 in London, and we look after them as a specialist cluster because they have particular issues around premises needs, but we also have textile manufacturers elsewhere in the UK that are members, such as in Yorkshire and Scotland, and we help them through all sorts of different avenues. Some of it is linking with brands and retailers, but we also get heavily involved in environmental issues, so we’re helping big manufacturing companies reduce their carbon footprint.
How do you think Brexit is going to affect UK manufacturers and brands and how is the UKFT helping?
We are lobbying very hard with the government and the European Union to make sure they understand the needs of our industry. UK manufacturing has been growing for the past five years. We produce over £9 billion worth of product here in the UK and we employ over 105,000 people in manufacturing. One of the things that is driving that growth is the fantastic skill base that we bring in, predominantly to the cut make and trim manufacturers, from Eastern Europe. We need to make sure that the government understands that whatever immigration system comes in, it’s not just for the doctors and the lawyers, but also for the people that are actually driving the manufacturing economy in the UK and that includes those incredibly talented seamstresses and cutters. We’re also talking about tariffs, because although UK manufacturing will grow as a result of Brexit, the uncertainty about tariff rates means that retailers and brands are beginning to look at how we can we bring some of our manufacturing back to the UK. We need to make sure that the government understands that there is a skills need and that there is investment in UK manufacturing to make sure that there is the capacity to meet the needs of the retailers.
Occasionally there is some bad press about UK manufacturing. Can you give me your thoughts on this?
There was an article in The Times which had a chief executive from a leading retailer brand say that the vast majority of UK manufacturers are working unethically. I would absolutely 100% categorically refute that claim. There are some bad apples, as unfortunately there are some companies who completely flout the law. The UKFT utterly condemn those practices. However, there are absolutely fantastic manufacturers in the UK who pay way above national minimum wage. The London manufacturers we work with mostly pay the London living wage, which is even higher. We have companies up in Scotland who have over 100 apprentices in their businesses. There are some wonderful businesses doing everything they can to raise the profile of UK manufacturing and it is completely wrong to condemn all of UK manufacturing by the disgusting practices of one or two.
If someone wants to find out about a career in manufacturing how would you recommend they do that
You can get into manufacturing either through a degree route and then finding your local manufacturer, or through the apprenticeship route. I think if I had my time again I’d be looking at apprenticeships, you get you earn while you learn and get a whole range of fantastic skills. Most of it is learnt on the job, not in classes, you’re actually on the factory floor and there are apprenticeships in all different parts of manufacturing. One of the issues that we have is the huge disconnect of the perceived attractiveness of careers in manufacturing as opposed to careers in design. There’s around 15,000 people on fashion design courses in the UK, and they’re not all going to become the next Stella McCartney. What we need to do is make UK manufacturing a much more attractive career. At a Make it British Live! event, we did an interview panel with three young people, all under the age of 30 and all of whom had chosen to work in manufacturing because they understood it was a long-term career where they could have a huge knowledge base and a huge number of skills. They absolutely love working in manufacturing and they love dealing with designers and solving problems.
Can young people contact you if they’re interested?
We can certainly help place young people into all sorts of different manufacturing careers. The easiest way to contact us is via our website at ukft.org.