267 – Insights from my Houses of Parliament meeting with the APPG for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion

Welcome to episode 267 of the Make It British Podcast!

In this episode, I share my recent experiences at the All Party Parliamentary Group for ethics and sustainability in fashion at the Houses of Parliament, organised by Fashion Roundtable.

You can hear the full speech that I gave on the importance of localism, transparency, and ethical practices in the fashion industry. In which I highlighted the challenges faced by UK manufacturers, the need for skilled workers, and the potential for a thriving local manufacturing supply chain.

You'll gain insight into the current British manufacturing landscape and discover how small businesses are leading the way in ethical and sustainable production.

The meeting was chaired by John McNally MP and the secretariat for the APPG is Fashion Roundtable, led by Tamara Cincik.

The other speakers were:

  • Mary Creagh CBE – Chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative, Former MP and Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.
  • Patrick Grant - Founder of Community Clothing and presenter on The Great British Sewing Bee.
  • Professor Dilys Williams – Fashion Roundtable Board Member and Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion.
  • Sam Ludlow-Taylor – Head of Human Rights at John Lewis.
  • Anna Bryher – Policy Lead at Labour Behind the Label

Watch the Speech on YouTube here


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Kate Hills [00:00:12]:

You're listening to the Make It British podcast. I'm Kate Hills, and I'm on a one woman mission to save UK Trim. In 2008, I gave up my 20 year career as a fashion buyer because I was disillusioned with how much was being sourced overseas, And I set out to uncover some of the amazing businesses that are still making in the UK. Since founding Make It British, I've discovered That there is not only still tons of manufacturing taking place in Britain, but that it's a thriving industry. I invite you to join me each week when I'll be chatting to inspiring British made brands and UK manufacturers and offering advice to product Based businesses that make in the UK. So with no further ado, let's get on with the show. Hello, and welcome to episode number 267 of the Make It British Podcast. So today, as it is just a week to go until Black Friday, I was gonna do this episode as a bit of a rant Against Black Friday and why you shouldn't be taking part in Black Friday, buying anything on Black Friday, But then I realized that I was totally preaching to the converted because I did a poll on my Instagram story Asking my followers, were they taking part in Black Friday? And 91% said no.

Kate Hills [00:01:40]:

So it's a resounding no the majority of people, I mean, 91%, that is a big old chunk who stuck their hands up to say no. We're having nothing to do with Black Friday. So instead, What I thought I would do today I've just come back from the houses of parliament where I did a talk at the all party parliamentary group For ethics and sustainability in fashion, I was on a panel where we were discussing, can localism support due diligence and greater transparency in the fashion sector. Everyone was brought together by the organization Fashion Roundtable, who are the terry act for that particular APPG or party parliamentary group, and there was about a 125 people in the room. It was packed. And I know a lot of people knew that I was at this event and have said, was it recorded anywhere? Is it gonna be televised? Well, it's certainly not gonna be televised. It wasn't as grand as that. What the all party parliamentary groups are are like informal cross party groups on specific topics.

Kate Hills [00:02:43]:

There's hundreds of them, And they get together MPs from various different parties, as the name suggests, and various other stakeholders together to discuss important topics that could potentially shape policy going forward. So it was amazing to have been asked to speak at this event. There were some really fantastic other speakers there. I'm gonna go through who they were. It was held in the Jubilee Room in Westminster the hall, which is very grand. I'll share some pictures of that on my Instagram story so you can see what it's like if you've not been inside there. It's a bit nerve wracking, I have to say. I'm slightly nervous about it, but I'm glad I wasn't the 1st speaker.

Kate Hills [00:03:26]:

And what I thought I would do today was not only read you out the speech that I gave so that you get an opportunity to hear what it was that I said at this meeting, but also To give a summary of what the other speakers had to say, because it's such an important topic, ethics and sustainability in fashion is so important, And not everyone gets the opportunity to come along to these events, so I thought you might like to hear what was discussed and what potentially Could happen in the future if they listened to what we all had to say. So the meeting was chaired by John McNally, MP. He is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, and the 1st speaker was Mary Cray, who was originally a Labour MP. She's chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative. She's a former MP, like I said, and she's also Chair of the environmental audit committee. In her talk, she discussed her work as part of the environmental audit committee around the fashion report, as well as her role at the ETI and the work that they're doing around human rights and how this applies, obviously, to sustainable fashion. So some of the topics that Mary discussed was about the fact that the fashion industry has, Really, over the last few decades, chased the cheap needle, as she called it, and gone overseas for the majority of fashion production. She talked about the Modern Slavery Act and how that should be adopted at all levels by retailers and how they should be taking accountability and signing up to global framework agreements so that the workers in the textile supply chain are given a voice.

Kate Hills [00:05:11]:

Interestingly, she called out Kurt Geiger. She said of all the brands that they contacted when they were doing the fixing fashion report, Kurt Geiger were the ones who totally blanked her, Never got back to any of their messages and had nothing that they wanted to say about anything to do with ethics and sustainability in their supply chain. So boohoo to you, Kurt Geiger. Anyone listening to this, probably won't buy Kurt Geiger shoes again After hearing that, so, you know, you reap what you sow. And if you remain totally new like that, word will get out, And people will start to not buy from you. Anyway, as well as calling out Kurt Geiger and talking about the fixing fashion report, She also talked about school uniform and how more school uniforms should be reusable so that Rather than school's embroidering badges on sweatshirts and blazers and things, it was a removable badge So that it could be reused and reworn rather than being thrown away, which I think is really important. So many, like, millions of school uniform garments bought every year. And if recycling could be addressed when it comes to school uniform, I mean, imagine how much that would save from all those nasty new Polyester everything that school kids seem to have as part of their uniform these days.

Kate Hills [00:06:34]:

She also said that there was a stigma attached to buying secondhand, particularly amongst the poorest parts of society, and that we needed to address that so that parents did not feel ashamed to send their kids to school in secondhand uniforms, so I thought that was a really good point. She said we need to keep more Clothing in circulation and not have it thrown away, and that we really should refrain from outsourcing so much of our recycling to other countries. So some great points by Mary Craig. Following Mary's talk, we had the lovely Patrick Grant, who many of you probably know from the Great British So and Bee on the BBC. He's one of the presenters on there, but you may not know that Patrick also owns Three different clothing businesses, a tailor on Savile Row called Norton and Son. He owns Etortes, which is a high end menswear brand, And he also has a factory up in Blackburn producing the his own community clothing label. So he took us through a whole summary in 15 minutes Of his career highlights and why UK manufacturing is so important to him, he's worked in manufacturing in various ways all his life. He told us why he set up his community clothing business to keep UK factories in work and explained how that all came about.

Kate Hills [00:07:55]:

He also gave us a very short potted history of the UK manufacturing industry with some interesting cool facts. Apparently, 2 a half 1000000 people used to work in textiles in the UK. He also said that before he Started community clothing as its own brand. He had been speaking to some knitwear manufacturers in Scotland and had the idea To originally get involved in making knitted wall jumpers for schools for schoolchildren, which goes back to what Mary Gray said about making school uniform more sustainable. He said he'd thought about making school jumpers in the UK, and that if every school child in the UK Wore a wool jumper that was knitted here, then it would create as many knitwear jobs as we've lost in the last 50 years. I love that figure. I think it's great. So he talked about how his business model works at Community Clothing, which is making garments not only in his own factory in Blackburn, But also across lots of other factories in the UK working with them during their downtime.

Kate Hills [00:09:01]:

So for instance, like the knitwear manufacturers, The majority of their knitwear, they're really busy, a short window of the year, and the rest of the time, their factories are quiet. So at Community Clothing, he uses the production space when the factories are quiet to make sure that the knitwear factories have consistent business. So It's a really interesting business model. If you haven't checked out the community clothing website, I highly recommend that you do. It's very affordable, I would say, British made basics for both men and women, and he said the reason that the brand is so affordable Is your typical brand would spend only 25% of the retail value. So, say, you bought something for a £100, Only £25 of that would have been spent on getting the product made, whereas community clothing, they spend 65% in every pound on the making of the product. So you get great value from the products because so much of the money goes to the makers. He said his staff are really well paid, and he wants to create a business that sells considered purchases, which is fantastic.

Kate Hills [00:10:09]:

He also talked about his work with Fibershed and how there was a project up in Blackburn using some wasteland where they grew flax, Woad an indigo, and woad an indigo for the dyeing, in order to prove that you could grow your own clothes again from scratch. He reminded everyone That pre the industrial revolution, in the UK or in Britain, we only wore flax and British wool. There was no merino, and there was no cotton before then, and we were totally self sufficient in growing and making the clothes and the textiles that we used, and he would love to see us getting back to more of that model. He also talked about the fact that the emphasis very much needs to be on the repair of clothing, on good quality clothing that's made to last and that we can repair. He also had a bit of a rant about the fact that when you're buying from companies like Amazon, Not only do they not make anything here in the UK, they also employ very few people here, and they don't pay any tax here as well. And it just makes economic sense to buy clothing that is made here by people that live here and by companies that are paying tax here. And that if we just bought clothes made here, and we bought a lot less of them, and then repaired them all, it would create a lot more jobs and a lot less waste. So very wise words from Patrick Grant.

Kate Hills [00:11:35]:

Following Patrick's speech, we then heard from professor Dyliss Williams, who set up the Center For Sustainable Fashion. She talked about why localism is important. She referred to a book Called Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered by EF Schumacher, and pointed out that that book was written In 1973, so 50 years ago, and that way of thinking that small is beautiful is definitely coming back around again, and I totally agree with that. And in my speech, you'll you'll hear in a minute, I talk quite a bit about microfactories. She said that we need to be thinking about scaling out rather than scaling up. In other words, that the future is about being small And that government very much need to recognize that innovation is linked to smallness. Because at the moment, and this is certainly what I've observed as well, They very much focus on big businesses and not the micro ones, which so many businesses in UK fashion and textiles are. Following Dhillis, we heard from Sam Ludlow Taylor, who works in human rights at John Lewis.

Kate Hills [00:12:43]:

She talked about the risk and the ethical requirements when looking at Some areas of UK sourcing, the skills shortage, and the Better Jobs program. Now I didn't necessarily agree with everything that Sam said. She talked about UK manufacturing being useful for quick reactions and trials. I actually think it's very dangerous When retailers say that's what they wanna use UK factories for, okay, let's just use the the UK for just the trials and then just give the big orders to the overseas factories. That's wrong in my opinion. The problem is if we do that, what sort of message does that send to the UK manufacturers? You're only good for the quick trial stuff. You're gonna put all your work into doing those trials, but then we're gonna give the business to the big factories overseas afterwards. So Tut tut, John Lewis.

Kate Hills [00:13:33]:

I don't think that was the right thing to say. Anyway, one thing she did say about John Lewis is that their customers really like made in UK, So I wish they would put their money where their mouth is and sell a lot more products, particularly in their clothing section, because they do it in food, in Waitrose, and to some extent in the Home departments, but you rarely see enough clothes that are made in the UK in John Lewis. Maybe that's because they're only doing the trials in the UK. Anyway, moving swiftly on, we then heard from Anna Bryer from Labour Behind the Label. I love the organization Labour behind the label. They are doing amazing things to speak up for workers in the Leicester textile industry. She talked about the community outreach work that labor behind the label are doing in Leicester and how they're working hard to campaign for the right policies needed to make sure that workers in Leicester are properly protected and treated fairly and paid fairly as well. She called out the e tailers for bullying Leicester suppliers.

Kate Hills [00:14:39]:

Particularly, she talked about Boohoo and how they've totally done the dirty on Lester, which I would wholeheartedly agree with, she said that despite the fact that Boohoo have their own factory in Leicester, Currently, they are making the majority of their clothing that is supposed to be made in Leicester overseas and just relabeling it at the Boohoo factory. Tut tut boohoo, really bad news, but it's nothing that everyone in the industry didn't know was secretly going on anyway. Because Boohoo have pulled out of Leicester, it's seen a massive decline in garment manufacturing units in Leicester recently. I've talked about this on my Instagram. Anna talked about it at the event today. She said it's gone from a1000 to 405 units in Leicester over the last couple of years. There's now only 2,250 people employed in garment manufacturing in Leicester. That's down significantly as well.

Kate Hills [00:15:35]:

She also said that, sadly, 80% of the visitors to food banks in Leicester are garment workers, which is shocking. Labour behind the label would love to see UK brands committing 1% to UK made goods, And they'd like to see that made policy. I'd love to see that too. So hopefully, that didn't fall on deaf ears. Now despite that, She did say that conditions have gone up in Leicester recently, and particular commendations should be given to 2nd generation Leicester garment factory owners who are really committed to doing the right thing in Leicester now. They're coming at it with totally renewed figure, And they're doing some great stuff in Leicester. It's just a shame that some of that gets tarnished with the same brush as some of the bad things that have gone on there recently. One other thing that Anna said particularly was that factories need investment, And that was something that was echoed at the end by one of the attendees of the event, which was Debbie Luffman, who had previously worked in sustainability at Finnister Air for many years, who said that they've worked with so many factories in the UK at Finisterre, and sadly, many of them do need investment.

Kate Hills [00:16:48]:

That's very true. And where is this investment gonna come from? It is much needed, and I'd love to see that as well. So that's what the other speakers had to say today. I'm now gonna read you out exactly my speech as I gave it to the attendees and the group that were there today. So here we go. Thank you for inviting me here today to speak on this very important topic. I'm gonna be sharing with you the current British manufacturing landscape and brands' desire For onshoring. As the founder of Make It British, I've been championing UK manufacturing and local sourcing since 2011.

Kate Hills [00:17:25]:

And as someone who has over 30 years experience as a designer and fashion buyer working with local and global supply chains in the fashion industry, To me, making locally just makes sense from an economic and sustainability perspective. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical impacts of their choices, and brands need to be held accountable for their Social and environmental impact by becoming more transparent and committing to ethical practices throughout their supply chains. One of the ways in which many small businesses are doing this is by manufacturing locally. It produces a lower carbon footprint, Builds up local manufacturing communities, creates employment in those communities, and affords more transparency. Over the last 10 years, there have been many new initiatives springing up, from cotton being spun in Manchester again, natural shell buttons being produced at scale in the Cotswolds, The UK's 1st sustainable denim washing facility, the UK's 1st seamless circular knitting factory, And hundreds of micro factories owned and run by brands making their own clothing to order. But we're also at a Tipping point in terms of whether we can fully revive the UK textile industry before it's too late. The biggest issue that the industry faces right now is attracting and retaining skilled staff. And the problem is once the skills are gone, it is gonna be very tough to get them back.

Kate Hills [00:18:53]:

In some parts of the UK fashion supply chain, skills are almost nonexistent. We are down to our last of in many specialisms. As an example, the last remaining Nottingham lace manufacturer, a 300 year old 9th generation family business, has gone from 20 staff to 4 over the last couple of years because orders from Europe have declined dramatically since Brexit. Another example is in Walsall in the West Midlands, once a thriving part of the UK leather industry employing over 10,000 workers in its heyday. As recently as a decade ago, there were over 20 manufacturing units in Walsall making high end leather goods that were sold globally. Now there are just a couple of these highly skilled units left. And then there is the Scottish knitwear industry, renowned the world over for the finest quality cashmere, Struggling to keep up with demand because they can't get the skilled workers that they need to finish the garments. And then we've got Leicester, Once the garment manufacturing hub of England, which has lost 67% of its workers over the last couple of years because big brands refuse to pay them fairly, These are machinists that the industry cannot afford to lose.

Kate Hills [00:20:09]:

What many people don't realize that it's not just the garment workers that are affected when big Brands abuse their power and aren't transparent. It's the knock on effect on other parts of the supply chain that is most worrying. The fabric knitters whose fabric is no longer needed will end up closing down, and their machinery will be bought and shipped overseas. The dye houses won't be able to afford to stay open if they've got no fabric to dye, so they will end up closing too. The yarn spinners, Fabric finishes and fabric printers will all cease to exist, and then it will be much more difficult to get them back again. And the problem is if we allow this trend to continue, we risk not only the loss of skilled jobs and a rich manufacturing heritage, But also a future where brands have no option but to source abroad, further distancing themselves from the transparency see and responsibility that consumers increasingly demand and that we owe to our industry. There is already Technology out there that can help make garment and textile manufacturing more efficient and transparent, but big brands are reluctant to use these solutions because it will expose where they're going wrong. 90% of the UK's fashion and textile manufacturers are small businesses With fewer than 10 employees, this industry comprises thousands of micro businesses often operating in isolation.

Kate Hills [00:21:32]:

Embracing greater transparency and leveraging technology would enable them to seamlessly connect their supply chains, which in turn could lead to increased efficiency, improved collaboration, and better responsiveness to market demands. This interconnected network of Small businesses could collectively strengthen the UK's local manufacturing supply chain, fostering resilience and competitiveness in the industry. So if we are ever to hope to have a future in which a local and community based end to end textile supply chain is possible, We need to strengthen the UK's local manufacturing supply chain in several ways. Number 1, Legislate so that brands are forced to be transparent about all layers in their supply chains, helping consumers to make more informed choices and holding brands accountable for their sourcing practices. Number 2, encourage the uptake of technology and data driven solutions To improve efficiency, traceability, and accountability in manufacturing processes, this will benefit not only the brands but also Tumors and the environment. Number 3, introduce policies that protect local manufacturing such as tax incentives, grants, and streamline regulations so that we can create a level playing field for local manufacturers and ensure their long term viability and Number 4, create training programs that are fit for purpose, that focus on teaching the skills which we are at risk of losing, Recognizing the critical role that these skills play in the textile and fashion manufacturing sector and ensuring a sustainable future for the industry. By taking these steps, we can pave the way for a more transparent, sustainable, and resilient future for British manufacturing. It's a future where we value local communities, Skilled workers and ethical practices as much as we do innovation and global markets.

Kate Hills [00:23:27]:

Together, we can ensure that the UK's textile industry thrives and retains its place on the world stage. Thank you. So following all the talks by the speakers, there was then a q and a from the floor. Lots of people wanted to ask questions. Unfortunately, there was only a time for a few. One of the biggest things that came out From the questions was that we need an industrial strategy, and that should be a focus of any new government we get next year, also that public Procurement policy should mean that products sourced for the NHS, the police force, everything like that, should be done locally. And there was some discussion about the whole PPE debacle. Patrick Grant particularly brought that up to say that there was no sense Buying masks from China, when we could have been buying them made in the UK, yes, they cost a little bit more, but all of the money That has gone into making those masks, the people that are paid, the tax that goes back to the government on the sale of those masks was not accounted for and that public procurement had just chased the cheap needle, which is what Mary had talked about right at the beginning as well.

Kate Hills [00:24:39]:

There was a suggestion also from Patrick, which I wholeheartedly agree with, that there should be no VAT on UK made clothing, And that I particularly think manufacturers in the UK, to encourage people to work with those manufacturers, They shouldn't have to pay VAT on the work that they sell. That would be great to see. Someone said that the problem with that is that retailers, if they were Getting those VAT savings on UK made clothing, they wouldn't pass it on to the consumer, which is probably which is why it would need to be at manufacturing level. So that would be an interesting one. Let's hope that might happen. And then finally, one common thread that came out Today, in summary, was that the onus really needs to be put on brands to ensure that they have decent labor practices in their supply chains, And that in the UK, we are way behind countries in Europe, like Germany, that already have these laws in place in their supply chains over there. So all in all, a very interesting debate. I always think we go to these meetings.

Kate Hills [00:25:45]:

I've been to a few before. I'd love to see of the things that we talked about today, actually becoming policy and shaping industrial strategy going forward. Like I said in my speech, it's a very interesting time for UK manufacturing, and it could go either way depending on where the balance of power lies. Currently, it lies very much with the big brands and the e tailers, but there are so many exciting things happening at small business level Manufacturing in the UK, which everyone that listens to this podcast knows that I champion wholeheartedly. I really think That's where the growth is coming from in UK manufacturing. It's those small businesses and not the big retailers and brands They're only focused on price and chasing that cheap needle. So that's it from me today. I hope you enjoyed that episode.

Kate Hills [00:26:34]:

It was something a little bit different. If you are enjoying this podcast. I would love to read a review from you. Tell me what you like, what you don't like. Be honest. I'd love to hear it. When you're recording a podcast, it's always difficult to know what is it people are enjoying, what is it they're finding useful. Please do Write me a review and let me know.

Kate Hills [00:26:55]:

It also helps to have those reviews on things like Itunes because it means that the podcast gets pushed out To other people who might not yet be listening to the show and might discover it and then decide to make in the UK. So thanks once again for listening. Take care. Bye bye.