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5 Reasons Brands Hesitate to Manufacture in the UK and Why They Should Reconsider

Kate Hills in UK garment factory
Kate Hills, founder of Make it British, in a UK garment factory

This article explores the common reasons why brands might hesitate to manufacture locally and aims to debunk these myths, offering a fresh perspective on the untapped potential of UK manufacturing for clothing and textile brands.

In an era where transparency in garment production is more crucial than ever, more brands than ever are thinking about manufacturing in the UK.

I've been advocating for and spotlighting the benefits of local manufacturing for over a decade. With firsthand experience and a unparalleled knowledge of the UK garment and textile manufacturing landscape, I understand the obstacles brands face when deciding where to make their products.

While there are valid concerns about manufacturing in the UK, the advantages far outweigh the challenges.

Over the years, I've consulted with many prominent brands and retailers, including working as a consultant for M&S Best of British in 2012, to understand why they don't manufacture in the UK. Typically, they cite one or a combination of the following five reasons:

  • 1. Not everything can be made here

    In some cases, there are legitimate reasons why certain products cannot be made in the UK. For example, we've lost nearly all of the women's high-heeled shoe factories we once had. Now, the Gina Shoes factory in North London, which only manufactures its own brand, is the sole survivor. But when it comes to something like a women's clothing brand, much of it can be made in the UK, such as dresses, soft separates and cashmere knitwear. In fact, some of the best cashmere knitwear in the world is made in Scotland at factories such as Johnstons of Elgin and Barrie Knitwear.

  • 2. UK factories don't have the capacity

    90% of UK garment manufacturers employ less than 10 people, so our factories focus on small quantities rather than mass manufacturing. But that is a GOOD thing if you are trying to build a brand based on high quality and speed of response. With local manufacturers you can be in the factory regularly, checking on quality and making adjustments quickly.
    That sort of flexibility is priceless to a small brand. And if more of the bigger brands and retailers at least committed to making a small percentage here, it would give the manufacturers the confidence needed expand and take on more workers so that they could increase capacity.

  • 3. UK manufacturing is perceived as expensive

    The hourly rate in the UK is higher than in manufacturing bases without a minimum wage, potentially increasing a brand's cost price. However, the lower cost price from overseas factories comes with its own costs. For example, when brands place orders in countries like China or India, they are forced to buy in much larger quantities, so they’re gambling on what they’re buying will actually sell.
    Misjudging this can result in unsold stock, which is a loss to both the business and the planet. Brands manufacturing overseas may pay less per garment, but they are often less profitable as they need to offset these costs through sales and discounting of unsold stock.
    I know brands that make in the UK that sell nearly 100% at full price and never need to discount, because their speed of response os so quick or they are making on demand.

  • 4. Finding UK factories can be hard

    UK garment manufacturers don’t make themselves that easy to be found. Many of the very best ones don’t even have websites. In fact, a lot of UK garment manufacturers would rather not have hundreds of enquiries to deal with every week. They’d rather find work through word of mouth and recommendations from people like people that they know will matchmake them with the right clients and who genuinely want to make in the UK for all the right reasons. Rather than clients that will just price compare them with China.

  • 5. Bad press about BooHoo factories has made brands wary

    There has been some (justifiably) bad press about some of the less scrupulous garment manufacturers in the UK that were exposed as paying workers below minimum wage and having them work in terrible conditions.
    Worker exploitation is a global issue in the textile industry. However, when it occurs locally, containing the resulting bad publicity becomes challenging, as BooHoo painfully discovered. But this should not be a reason for brands to push the problem overseas so it is out of sight and out of mind.
    Choosing the right manufacturer, building up a strong partnership with them, working on open costings and visiting regularly can allay any fears of wrong-doing and exploration, and therefore mean that a press-expose does not happen.

Let me help YOU to manufacture in the UK

The decision to manufacture in the UK involves weighing numerous factors, from cost and capacity to ethical considerations and brand image. The benefits of local production—such as superior quality, faster turnaround times, and ethical transparency—present compelling reasons for brands to reconsider their manufacturing strategies.

At Make it British, we're committed to supporting brands in navigating these challenges and seizing the opportunities that UK manufacturing offers.

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