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Make it British Live! 2018 – Symposium Summary

Make it British Live! 2018 included the symposium, our conference to debate the issues faced by the fashion and textiles industry manufacturing in the UK today.

Chaired by renowned industry commentator Eric Musgrave (previously Drapers editor and twice named business editor of the year) the symposium was a packed timetable of debate, including 25 speakers.

From high street to high end, apprentices to CEOs, footwear to maternity wear, the symposium provided a wide breadth of experts. But, as diverse as the speakers and their topics were, key themes continued to be raised across the two days of talks.

Here is a round-up of the main topics covered at the 2018 Symposium.


Eric Musgrave chairs the Make it British Live! Symposium


Shailina Parti, Buying & Merchandising Director for Jigsaw, discussed the challenge of selling high quality, British-made garments on the high street, due to the high costs involved.  Many of our speakers agreed, but shared success stories on selling to overseas markets, where customers are willing to pay a premium for British-made goods.

“The decision to make Blackshore in Britain gives our brand export interest” said Simon Middleton, Founder & MD, Blackshore.

Ian Maclean, MD at John Smedley, supported Simon Middleton’s statement, saying “Japan is an enormous market for British-made goods because they love quality, provenance, heritage and design, and British brands have all that.”

Nigel Carbourn concurred, saying “I wouldn’t be where I was, if it wasn’t for exporting to Japan.

symposium, export,

Nigel Cabourn joins the Export Panel

The importance of overseas markets, specifically the Japanese market, was consistently mentioned.

But, how do you tackle an export strategy?  The symposium speakers, including the export panel, explored this in more detail, giving advice from their own experiences, such as…

A coordinated showcase for British-brands, like the UKFT organise, are brilliant to help push British-made goods to overseas markets.” – Ian Mclean, Managing Director, John Smedley

Quality control is the most important aspect of the brand. Without the quality we can’t sell our product.” – Robert Yentob, CEO, Dents/Corgi

Localisation, as well as translation, is necessary to reach your overseas markets successfully.” Christian Robinson, Director, Tiffany Rose

Skills and Training

To create high quality products, to sell either here or overseas, you need the skills to do so. Another hot topic at the symposium was the skills shortage in UK textile and garment manufacturing.

Sam Morrison from Smyth and Gibson, the only remaining shirt makers in Derry, explained, “100 years ago there were 18,000 shirt makers in Derry, today we struggle to find skilled staff”.

This issue is not limited to shirt making, but is across the board.  Almost all of the speakers touched on the skills shortage they faced, from footwear to textiles manufacturers.

Developing skills is essential to our business, but it’s getting more difficult to recruit young people. We need to sell the industry to young people harder than ever before.” Simon Cotton CEO,  Johnstons of Elgin

The symposium was fortunate to have two young apprentices from WT Johnson join the stage.  Elena Drury and Courtney Spencer, explained how college wasn’t the right route for them but how they found fulfilling employment via an apprenticeship. They shared what attracted them to the industry; being respected and paid accordingly for their work; gaining qualifications; opportunities to progress; and that the work is exciting and valued.

The apprenticeship has far exceeded my expectations. I still get amazed when we handle a piece for Gucci or Alexander McQueen” – Elena Drury, Apprentice, WT Johnson

skills, training, apprenticeships, symposium

The Skills & Apprenticeships Panel

John West from UKFT summarised “We need to promote the textile industry in schools, as well as the apprenticeship scheme. There are fantastic opportunities for young people to progress in the industry.”


The symposium included a sustainability panel, but it was a topic raised throughout many of the talks.  As Eric Musgrave pointed out, being sustainable is often simply good business practice.

Throughout the two days the audience heard about sustainability being tackled from a variety of angles and by various strategies. From Stephen Cawley, John Lewis’s Head of Sustainability, discussing the implementation of a worker voice initiative, to Charlie Ross setting out Offset Warehouse’s mission to source, and make available, ethical fabrics.

Circular economy expert Lynn Wilson explained the ideas and strategies behind ‘closing the loop’. “To implement a circular economy model the starting point is the question – what happens at the end of the products life?” – Lynn Wilson, Circular Economy Wardrobe.

Jenny Holloway discusses what ethical garment production really means

Fashion Enter’s founder, Jenny Holloway, shared how she has achieved a transparent garment production process at her London based factory.  Using technology to capture live information means that the process can be tracked in detail and staff can be paid based on their performance. This offers staff the opportunity to earn well above the living wage.

Jenny also called for a stronger stance from manufacturers when negotiating deals, “When the terms are not right or ethical you have just got to say no. There is nothing wrong with fast fashion. There is something wrong with cheap fast fashion. From an ethical point of view it is absolutely right to reduce the quantity, so hopefully the retailers will sell out and the discount margin will be better and we haven’t got that issue with throw-away fashion.”

Staying relevant

Attracting young people into the industry and taking a stance on sustainability issues will help British brands stay relevant. But, as the market adapts, it’s important for businesses to adapt with it. “Menswear has changed enormously. It’s essential to change with the times and adapt to the market.” said Tim Little, Designer and Owner of Grenson Shoes

Heritage textile business Johnstons of Elgin shared how they have maintained the 200 year old business and are establishing their own clothing brand to prepare for the future. “We’ve developed our classics to create a strong foundation, then we have built on that…It’s been a process of analysis, reflection and learning. We’ve looked back over our history to be able to move forward. Matching our collection to the market, but in our own unique way.” said Alan Scott, creative director of Johnstons of Elgin

The rise of customisation in fashion was addressed too. From heritage shirt makers Smyth & Gibson, embracing customisation as “an important part of the future of the business, to keep our niche in the market.” To digital technologists Lectra’s presentation on mass-customisation and the necessity of technology and local manufacturing to be able to implement it successfully. “Being digitally savvy is no longer optional for manufacturers.

symposium, digital technologies

Lectra delivers a presentation on mass-customisation

At the end of two days of inspiring talks Eric Musgrave and Kate Hills closed the symposium with a statement on British manufacturing…”Use it or lose it!

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