Last week I was invited to a meeting at the Houses of Parliament organised by Fashion Roundtable to talk about the current landscape for UK fashion and textile manufacturers, and what key challenges they face in the next five years.
As well as propose potential solutions for the long-term growth of the industry.
Here’s what I said…
2 weeks ago the owner of the last remaining Nottingham lace factory felt compelled to write to the Financial Times to say that Brexit was killing his business.
His 300 year old, 9th generation family business has gone from 20 staff to 4 since we left the EU.
WE CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE THESE SKILLS
90% of UK fashion and textile manufacturers employ less than 10 people. Our industry is made up of thousands of micro businesses who feel unheard and unsupported.
The industry is fragmented and we are at risk of losing many key skills, which if we don’t act quickly will be impossible to replace.
UK fashion and textile manufacturers biggest concerns right now are training and retaining staff and remaining competitive against their European counterparts. Increased shipping costs, duty and red tape are crippling their businesses.
Italy, Portugal and Turkey, our three main competitors in Europe, have millions in funding to their textile industry to help them promote their businesses to the outside world.
In comparison, the UK manufacturers get very little. There’s funding through Innovate UK, but so little of this goes to the textile and garment manufacturers that actually need it, and it doesn’t help with the biggest issue, which is the skills shortage and making the industry attractive for young people to want to come and work in it.
We have an apprenticeship scheme which is not fit for purpose, so very few garment and textile manufacturers use it, and an education system which is churning out 1000s of designers every year, who are not equipped with the know how of how to make something in a factory setting.
To address the skills issue we can’t even bring in skilled workers from overseas as they don’t meet the language qualifications that required.
We need centrally located training hubs, not just for machinists but in the other key poorly resourced areas, such as machine mechanics, in cities such as London, Leicester and Manchester, and incentives to encourage uptake of such training.
We need support from the ground up for the manufacturers that really need it, not just for the big organisations that shout loudest.
We need an industry trade show that is supported by government that showcases our manufacturers both here and abroad.
We need tax rebates for uk manufacturers to enable them to invest in new machinery and training staff.
We need an increase in duty and taxes on imported goods to encourage more people to buy locally.
I’m sure all of you saw the coronation? And admired the amazing craftsmanship of the uniforms worn at the parade?
All made by one small family factory in north london, founded by immigrants three generations ago, using buttons made in Birmingham and wool cloth woven in Yorkshire.
If we lose these skills because we are unable to support our UK manufacturers who’s going to make the uniforms for the next coronation?
There’ll be no one left…
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