According to the Office of National Statistics UK textile manufacturing has grown from £9 billion to £11 billion between 2018 to 2020.
Kate Hills, founder of Make it British, was invited to discuss these figures on BBC Radio 4. She was also joined by Make it British member Brant Richards, who is the co-founder of UK menswear brand HebTroCo.
Here is the transcript from the interview:
Winifred Robinson begins the interview with some statistics from the office for national statistics showing the rising increase of UK textile manufacturing:
Even though we’re in a pandemic, we have made a lot more clothes here in the UK this last couple of years, annual turn over in UK textile manufacturing rose from nine to 11 billion pounds. That was between 2018 and 2020. Being forced to make our own PPR for hospital and care workers helped boost production.
And the disruption to imports caused by Brexit and the pandemic also increased demand for manufacturing capacity at home. And there are new fashion startups determined to reduce their carbon footprint.Winifred Robinson
Winifred asks Kate Hills ‘Has COVID created new demand, for companies to make clothes here in the UK?’
Yeah, for the most part, it really has. It’s certainly led a lot more brands to look to source locally because of the supply chain disruption that’s happened overseas. Um, and also with people not going out and no fashion weeks taking place, UK factories have switched to making PPE over the last 18 months.
And I actually spent most of last year campaigning for the government to make more PPE in the UK to keep the British clothing factories busy. And it certainly helped them. Um, keep going while fashion production was slowing down. But also what has happened because of COVID is that people are focusing more on their local community and more consumers are wanting to switch to locally produce products in order to support those communities. And it’s also highlighted to people how much was actually coming into the UK with a made in China label on it.Kate Hills
Brant Richards, co-founder of menswear brand HebTroCo, explains how the business came about:
So we literally had a daft idea in the pub about six years ago, because we found out that Hebden Bridge, where we live, it used to be called trouser town that used to make a million pairs of trousers a year.
And we were a little bit, my partner Ed and I, little bit involved in sort of marketing. And we used to ride mountain bikes at the time, but we thought it was a great idea. We had good social media contacts. And so we started working with local textile companies to use the skills that were still here.
Sharing the journey on social media. And we just built it over the last five years, you know, adding shirts and socks and hats and jackets, everything made right here and everything shipped from our local post office by electric cargo bike as well.Brant Richards
Winifred enquires: ‘So these clothes that you make, are they a little bit pricier than clothes that you could buy from a big chain?’
Uh, I mean, it kind of depends how you’re viewing price. You know, we starting off with socks from the Midlands, like 15, 20 pounds, wooly hats. We’ve got, you know, really nice quality denim shirts from Suffolk, beautiful Yorkshire, Tweed Action blankets.
Shirt is Eighty pounds from Suffolk. Um, now our jeans, this is kind of a big one. We’re starting at a hundred pounds. The jeans made in Lancashire, um, which seems quite a lot more than you would pay at a supermarket. But you know, when you, when you look at Asda, Asda is selling jeans for six pounds and it’s like, not really sure who’s actually benefiting from that.Brant Richards
If you need six pound jeans, maybe, you know, or you want six pound jeans go to the, go at a charity shop, go to Oxfam, get a blue rinse, something like that. Um, so yeah, it’s more expensive to make stuff here, but the quality that you’re getting because of that you know, it it’s a lot, lot more.
Winifred turns to Kate. ‘Have you noticed then this big growth in demand for British made clothes? And do you think it’ll last?’
I mean, I think those figures will last and I think it will actually grow quite a lot more now because of people focusing more on locally made products like supporting local communities, but also because of the carbon footprint that bringing all these clothes in from overseas, what that has actually created.
Whereas if you buy something that’s made locally, not only is it better quality, so it will last a lot longer and it will give you a better cost per wear, but it will also leave a much lower carbon footprint.Kate Hills
Winifred then raises the issue of factories who dent the image of British clothing manufacturers. For example Boohoo who paid their Lester factory workers less than minimum wage. Kate Hills responds:
Well, firstly, with the Boohoo factory saga, this gets raised a lot by the media. But there’s only a very small proportion that are the bad eggs and you get that you get bad eggs and crooks in every industry. And what we need to focus on is all of the thousands of really fantastic UK manufacturers that make good quality products.Kate Hills
So it’s, it’s also a shame that the sort of people that buy Boohoo probably don’t listen to Radio Four, or watch things like Panorama. What has started happening recently is that there’s been more exposé about Boohoo factories on the social media channel Tik Tok.
Winifred goes on to suggest that people choose to buy cheaper because they simply can’t afford it. Kate replies:
But like Brant said about the jeans from Asda. If you did a comparison between how long a pair of jeans from HebTroCo would last with all of the extra heavy duty stitching and the denim that is much harder wearing it will last a lot longer than the products that you’re buying.
To get that six pound price point on those jeans, they’ve got to downgrade the quality, the stitching won’t be as strong. The denim will not last as long. And you can see that from the sorts of products that end up in charity shops, even then the quality is not as good as it used to be.Kate Hills
Winifred asks Brant: ‘Is there enough manufacturing capacity in the UK now to meet demand?’
Um, we are seeing an increasing, uh, lead times going out. Yeah. Even, even in the UK, we called up to order even more socks for Christmas this year, yesterday. And the guy at the factory was like, no lads, you know, it’s full, I’ve got lots of brands that have come on since last year.Brant Richards
She asks further: ‘How do you know the factory you use? Don’t sub-contract their work you give them?’
Oh, I mean, cause we like we’re there all the time. We, you know, I don’t even have a courier company, so we go and pick up production from factories. You know, we’re in factories, you know, sort of week in, week out working on samples and things like that.Brant Richards
And that’s a brilliant advantage to making in Britain. We couldn’t do that. The size we are, if we’re working with a brand in the far east, and it’s a massive advantage to develop the products in the UK, you know, I can just drive over uh, sort stuff out with the factory, go for a Curry of them afterwards, nothing gets stuck in a boat on the Suez canal. You know, we only get a problem around here if the road is closed because of the snow or something like that.
What are your thoughts on the points raised in this radio interview? Let us know in the comments.
Hello, I'm Kate Hills
I’ve been passionate about UK manufacturing ever since I had my own recycled clothing company and micro-factory in the early '90s! After 20 years as a designer and buyer developing products all over the world, I launched Make it British to support creative small businesses that want to make sustainably and locally.
Over the last ten years, I've helped 1,000s of businesses to work with UK manufacturers. Now it's your turn!