Is making clothing in the UK really more expensive?

We don’t think so, and we’ll show you why…

[Updated January 2021]

cost comparison making t shirt in UK versus overseas
You can’t compare apples to apples – buying clothing made overseas is not as cheap as you may think…

There is a myth that making clothing in the UK is much more expensive than manufacturing overseas. We’d like to dispel that myth and show you why that’s not the case, even on simple products such as T-shirts.

Let’s first start by looking at all of the different costs associated with making a good quality, branded T-shirt that retails for £25.

The average manufacturing cost for that T-shirt in the Far East, making a small quantity of a few hundred pieces, is around £4.24*. That price includes the fabric, cutting and stitching of the garment, labelling, pressing and packing, and the factory overhead and margin.

The same T-shirt made in the UK is around £8.85. It’s seems like it’s more than double, but hear us out!

When clothing is made overseas there are several other costs that need to be taken into account before that product is ready to hit the shop floor.

Shipping, import duties and agent fees need to be added on top

Shipping and duty can be as much as £1.75  on a simple T-shirt, depending on the size of the order and where it is coming from. And if the brand is buying through an agent they will take their cut too.

So now you get to a more likely cost of £7 for the Far Eastern-made T-shirt, compared to the £8.85 for the British one.

Retailers traditionally work on a profit margin of around 60% on a branded item when they sell it in their stores. A simple way to work that out is roughly double the wholesale cost plus VAT.

You need to take into account that if you’re buying large quantities in advance not all of it will sell at full price.

The average sell-through (the amount sold at full price) on a fashion product is around 60%. High-fashion, seasonal colours and styles can have an even lower sell-through, especially when the buyer has had to predict the trends months in advance in order to place an order with a Chinese factory. And therein lies the problem.

With average order times from the Far East being around 12 weeks from when a buyer places an order, often the product sitting on the shelves is not what the customer wants to buy. So traditional retailers have to factor this into their pricing, with around 40% of clothing making no profit for them at all.

Having product available when a customer actually wants it means you will sell more stock.

It’s why some of the fastest-growing online fashion retailers are moving their production to the UK.
Because every item of stock that’s not sold at full price is eating into profitability.

cost of making a t shirt in the UK
Making clothing in the UK means product can be made closer to when the customer wants it

Let’s assume that the average sell-through rate of a T-shirt which is bought within 4 weeks of going on sale is 80%. The wholesale price of the T-shirt may be higher, but if only 20% of the product goes in the sale then the retailer actually makes more profit.

It is not unheard of for UK-made brands to have a sell-through rate of 100%.

When they are selling online and able to gauge a reaction on the product via a channel such as Instagram they can literally make to order within a week. So every piece that they make sells at full price, because they have exactly what the customer wants…when they want it.

cost of making a t shirt in the far east
Clothing made overseas incurs many additional costs such as shipping and duty

This illustration doesn’t even include some of the other hidden costs of buying overseas, such as flights to the Far East to meet with the factory or courier bills for sending fit samples backwards and forwards until the product is correct

One of the advantages to brands of making in the UK is that they can have close contact with the manufacturer, and hence can avoid costly sampling and production mistakes.

Simon Cook, Managing Director of Discovery Knitting, who has been knitting quality fabrics for T-shirts in Leicestershire for over 30 years, told us:

I’ve heard of one brand who had to fit a T-shirt 17 times with a Chinese factory in order to get it right. At £54 a time for DHL to courier the sample over from the Far East that amounted to hundreds of pounds in sampling costs for just one T-shirt“.

Simon Cook – Managing Director, Discovery Knitting

Of course the price for making the T-shirt in the UK can vary massively according to so many different factors.

Simon Cook, who helped us to compile the figures for the cost price of the UK-made T-shirt, says that “£8.95 is the average price to make a small order of 150 T-Shirts in the UK, but this is based on an existing style. If there is a new pattern to be made and development work to be done then the brand will pay more”.

So how is the £8.95 cost of making a T-shirt in the UK broken down?

After speaking to different T-shirt manufacturers in the four main areas for jerseywear production in the UK (London, Manchester, Nottingham and Leicester) to whom he supplies his fabric, Simon came up with the following breakdown of production costs for 150 short sleeve T-shirts:

Fabric – £3.15
100% Organic Combed Cotton Single Jersey 170/175gsm knitted in the UK using a metre of fabric per T-shirt and buying 90 metres of fabric from stock

Cutting – 60p
Based on cutting 150 T-shirts over 4 sizes – S/M/L/XL

Stitching – £4.00
Price per garment if it is a straightfoward style. Includes labour costs and factory overheads

Press, Trim and Kimble – 65p
The cost for the final finishing and inspection of the T-shirt and the application of a swing tag.

Individual bag and barcode – 45p
Packing the garment and getting it ready to go to stores

When you see it broken down like that, you can begin to understand how little profit UK manufacturers make compared to the retailers. Does that sound fair?

One way of getting the best value product for your money is to buy British-made directly from the brands and not from the retailers.

Brands are often squeezed by retailers for the lowest possible price and have to cut their own profit in order to get in with the big stores. Traditionally retailers would double or triple the cost price that they receive from the brand, meaning less money goes to the people that make the product.

If you buy directly from the brand you are getting much better value for money as you aren’t paying the retailer mark-up.

Next time you complain about clothing being made in the UK being too expensive, stop and think about WHY that might be, and how by buying smarter you can change that perception.

Want to get T-Shirts made in the UK? We can connect you to manufacturers that can help. Complete this form and we’ll be in touch.

*We have based this example on a good quality, mid-market T-Shirt retailing at £25 and made in China. Cost of production of a T-shirt made overseas can vary according to various factors including quantity made, country of origin and quality of fabric used,

23 thoughts on “Is making clothing in the UK really more expensive?”

  1. Great article and I am looking for small order clothing manufacturers in the Uk for my brand right now. However the issue with buying British is just not the price. It is finding good customer service in the Uk that is the biggest problem. I have contacted many UK manufactures who do not call back, respond to emails and when hey do they choose only to communicate via email – I may as well go straight to Asia and type emails all day – The best point for me about buying British is I don’t have to pay for samples – I should be able to visit the manufacture direct, see, feel and touch their products so that I am happy with the quality. I refuse to communicate with people that are only 1/2 an hour drive via email!
    My asian suppliers do get it wrong and it costs money for samples – this is true but they have so far ALWAYS tried to get it right and made the necessary changes – My experience with UK manufactures is quite the opposite. When mistakes have been made they have blamed me. I have had a product delivered to me without my branding on it (just a generic leather bag) When I asked why the UK manufacturer said that the 3rd party company they used had gone bust so they sent the items unbranded – Charged me for the delivery costs and said they were not willing to take the items back! I have also had an experience when a courier company failed to deliver goods EVEN though I waited in for them all day -No attempted delivery card through the door no communication at all! I phoned the manufacturer a week after the agreed delivery date and asked them where my goods where and they told me that I was at fault for not being in! I do not have this problem with my Asian suppliers. I have also contacted manufacturers who say they are British but when quizzed and press they are forced to admit they their products are also made in Asia and they are just another link in the chain and only have an office in the Uk where they accept emails – Again I suspect that a lot of the companies who only communicate via email are in reality just UK “email addresses’. This puts me off dealing with suppliers who are not prepared to pick up the phone and discuss my business needs in person rather than only having email contact details on their website.the problem is not just price as I am prepared to sell my products at a higher price with a “made in Britain logo” a lot – certainly not all- of UK manufacturers do not understand or embrace customer service for the small companies – I am willing to bet that their large buyers do not receive the same shoddy service I do.
    The small number of clothing companies in the UK that are willing to actually manufacture small orders of branded closing is astonishing! The problem is not price – never really has been – the problem is – is it more convenient o use Asian manufactures than British ones. I am sorry to say that judging by my own experience to date – dealing with Asia is so much easier!

    1. Hi Dan

      It is very sad to read that the UK manufacturers you have dealt with are giving you this type of service.
      I am very much like yourself, enquiries will come through via email, but until you do not speak to the client you are unable to get a true picture of what they want.

      We are an ethical UK Manufacturer and have been so for nearly 30 years.
      The only way a small/start up company can grow, is if we as manufacturers entertain them.
      This is beneficial for both companies.

      We manufacture onsite, as well as design and develop. Everything is done in house and transparent.
      When our clients arrive to us we are able to all show this.

      Kate Hill has also been to our premises and is aware of our complete set up.
      Thank you Kate for the support you provide.

      Below is my email and website information if you wish to get in contact with us.

      Many thanks
      Kiran Shergill

    2. Absolutely right,i am very much Brit at heart and i want to make my label in Britain but todate email replies are way too slow .
      Please let me know if there is anyone out there who can cater small private label without fuss.cheers.
      Thank You

    3. Hey Dan,
      I totally agree with you that in the U.K. the customer service is just not up to standard. Rarely do they listen to your brand vision. They think they know it all and more or less respond in the negative when you suggest an idea that work.
      Generally they never want to see their clients face to face to discuss requirements. Very problematic when you want a feel of the desired product.
      That’s why I no longer stock products, I prefer to work on having sample for each artwork, check the quality and then once I am satisfied, l integrate my site with theirs
      to sell via the print on demand option. Less costly and good profit margins.

  2. There is a mystery I have never quite worked-out. Some factories make the trunk part of the shirt as a hose-shape, woven on their own machines. When Manchester Hosiery were still in business – about 2006 – they quoted me £3.85 for a viscous T shirt made that way. The problem is that most of these factories make granny-knickers, and the Office of National Statistics doesn’t have anything like a list to get researches started.

  3. There is a significant opportunity for British Manufacturers especially in the clothing sector to change their processes for the better. Making efficiency and productivity improvements is only part of the solution. As this articles proves, the sales process MUST be changed to improve response handling and sales conversion ratios. The definition of self motivation is: WANTING TO DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF. Owners or Directors MUST want to truly embrace change and those that do will immediately reap the rewards … especially RIGHT NOW given the result of the recent referendum. Now is the time to make Great Britain GREAT again.

  4. Absolutely right,i am very much Brit at heart and i want to make my label in Britain but to date email replies are way too slow .
    Please let me know if there is anyone out there who can cater small private label without fuss.cheers.
    Thank You

    My email address at

  5. Great article. One thing you didn’t mention is that when the t shirt is purchased in the Far East that money is being exported. The local manufacturer pays uk tax and national insurance, as do the employees. The money is then spent in the uk. Win win.

  6. These days I have to buy all my own clothes on a very tight budget so most things, with the exception of food is a “considered purchase”. I really want my clothes and other items it to be made in the United Kingdom.
    I look forward to seeing more jobs for Britain as a result of British manufacturing.

  7. Great article Kate. In Leicester we are seeing a great movement back to UK manufacture. Leicester manufacturers can supply a complete supply chain solutions with fabrics being knitted and dyed here and with our great designers and agile production garment manufacture can be achieved in 2/3 weeks. This takes true partnership working between buyer and supplier. The major challenge is gearing up to meet the demand, improving productivity and ensuring that the skills and training are in place.
    To find just some of the diverse range of quality manufacturers across a diverse range of garments and textile services take a look at
    Thank you Sue Tilley

  8. Congrats on a well written & very thorough article. Unlike many, I have been checking for a “UK MADE” logo for a LONG time & buying British where I can & I have been pleased to witness a recent revival of interest in the “UK Made” label. It has a certain Kudos!
    I live in Nottingham & have been pleased to see that a new “Nottingham made” store is doing well. As the Midlands has for a long time been a central part of the UK Ragtrade, clothes are a central part of this store. Unfortunately, many people only look at price when choosing certain clothes. This is the central fault with the premise of your entire article; £25.00 for a basic T-shirt? OMG!! I know you specified “good quality branded” but I can buy 3 similar T-shirts for that price from Tesco or a Multi-pack of cheapo Chinese from elsewhere…I SPECIFICALLY looked into Notts made goods awhile back, eg. & could find nothing I could afford. I’m afraid that despite my best efforts, were I limited to UK made, I would be walking around NUDE! However, for those of you with a few more £££ in your pockets, I can only wish “The best of British”!

  9. Clever, well thought through article, Kate.
    Everything you say rings so true for other products, not only in the fashion world. I created a clever tray called muggi, 5 years ago for a sailing friend of mine on his boat. Its made of plastic, everyone I spoke to assumed that I would make it in China! I was determined to try and buck the trend and manufacture in the UK, so that I had more control over the process and truely Export. My UK manufacturing partner, S K Engineering in Kent, manufactured the tooling and now manufactures muggi from their premises in Whitstable! We have a brilliant working relationship and I have none of the worries of working with an overseas supplier. I can visit the factory in the day, discuss new colours and schedules; all very hassle free and no shipping or duty. We now sell more muggi to disabled people, offices and factories, motor-homes and caravans than we do to sailors!

  10. I agree with the comments. I’ve had better responsiveness from non UK based suppliers which indicates a lack of interest in wanting new business. I like a few of the comments before am a new label brand and want to start with a small run. But most only care for large orders.

    1. Hi Tony
      Maybe you were contacting the wrong people?
      It’s always best to do your research first and ask the right questions. I am amazed at how many start-ups assume that just because a factory makes clothes that they will be suitable to make clothes for them.
      There can be so many variables and you need to ask the right questions first to get the right responses.
      You may find this article that I write useful

  11. Great reading! However we may need to improve many things if we are to be mainly Made In UK. I have worked best part of 15 + years in far East at a very highly focused garment manufacturing in very senior production roles. I had been involved in European production since 2003, where we had worked with Eastern European countries and UK. So I have experienced the both sides of the coin. I agree with most of the comments made here. Communication is easier with the Asian countries as we get replies over night and the information is 95%-100% accurate. They sometimes play with ex-courier dates with Chinese courier companies where accuracy is unable to trace. But if there is any delay such will be 1-2 days from the original.
    After having worked for 24 years in various garment manufacturers and suppliers, I started my own in 2013 where we try to have a balance approach for all UK customer needs. In order to offer some competitive prices, we have limited 2 personal for our UK office where all other activities are based in China. We have a strong fabric sourcing
    office in Shanghai with a manufacturing facility in Shandon province. We are currently
    working with Drapers award winning women’s wear brand and two private labels.

    With the Brexit, we have now changed our mind set and trying to develop the manufacturing back to UK which may be an uphill task. Our intention is to set
    up a 15-20 machines facility and cater efficiently in 18 months time. At present,
    we use a small production facility but MANAGE THE WHOLE PROCESS to avoid all disappointments mentioned by many above. As per my understanding, most the of
    the UK small production facilities are lack of management experience and knowledge.
    This is a process which need to be managed accurately. Also they NEVER take accountability for their own mistakes.

    we can cater women’s wear for any private labels with our UK facility. We are
    contactable by phone or e-mail. Also happy offer free advice. please get in touch

    Production Director

  12. Pingback: Material Sourcing: – The Fashion Of Buiness…

  13. This is a great article but such a shame that not a lot is being produced here in the UK or Europe with regards of shirts.

    I am a customer who is willing to pay more for shirts that are made in the UK rather China. Especially when taking into consideration what is happening in the world right now (Covid19). Why do we need to be so depend on China whilst we have our manufacturers right on our doorstep?

    Mistakes will always be made, regardless of where the manufacturer is based. In my views, we all need to step up the plate and simply making it happen, rather then pointing fingers. We need jobs here in the UK that can pay the bills, rather then outsourcing to large manufacturing sites abroad that pay their staff pennies.

  14. Lablu Chowdhury

    I am interested to set a small scale readymade garments industry in the U.K.

    I live in London and intend to help my country not only in production but also create employment.

    I am looking for some advise about cost and time frame until the production.

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