Fashion designers call for return of rag trade

The 'Made in Britain' label has almost died out, along with the skills it nurtured. But a tentative revival is under way

What with the booming soundtracks that accompany London Fashion Week, the noise of backs being slapped might be a little hard to hear. But the five-day style circus, which starts on Friday, is an excuse to celebrate the British fashion industry, and why not?

Much will be made of the £21bn that it pulls in through sales, and even more of the fact that many of the designers – big names like Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto, Holly Fulton and Christopher Raeburn – make their clothes in Britain.

Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, which runs LFW, said brands making goods in the UK were prospering. She added: "Although they are trading high-value products, it seems that the consumer is happy to pay a premium on products that have been made by a transparent industry."

Yet step outside the world of high fashion and the picture changes dramatically. Influential industry insiders warn that despite high-profile efforts to spark a "Made in Britain" revival, the clock is ticking for the UK's garment industry.

John Miln, who heads the UK Fashion & Textile Association, which represents manufacturers, puts the "time bomb" at "three to five years" before the skills learnt by previous generations are lost. David Hieatt, who owns the fledgling Cardigan-based Hiut Denim label with his wife, Clare, sees a "10-year window" to train replacements. And Nick Beighton, finance director of the UK's biggest online clothes retailer Asos, is bleaker still, declaring skills are not just "vanishing but have disappeared" during the past 20 years.

Scores of factories closed after all major retailers sent production overseas. Some big names, such as M&S and John Lewis, are pushing "Best of British" ranges, but the lack of manufacturing capacity means they are little more than tokenistic.

Sir Philip Green, head of Arcadia, made headlines by saying he planned to ramp up domestic production, but industry sources say he has yet to make good on that pledge. When pressed, a spokesman for TopMan, part of the Arcadia empire, pointed to just three suits, two blazers and one coat made in Britain that will be on sale from November.

Mr Miln said there was "very little evidence" of big factories being built. M&S is stocking its new range, out next month, in just five stores despite trading from more than 350 locations across the UK.

Government figures suggest the UK textile industry employs around 100,000 people; that compares with 2.9 million in the retail sector. "The textile industry is not seen as hugely attractive as a job opportunity. If you can earn more shelf-stacking at Tesco, why not do that?" Mr Miln added.

In one small "factory" in north London – a glorified shed in reality – all 45 machinists tackling the mountains of black jersey piled next to each workstation are immigrants.

"None were born in Britain, and that's not right," says Jenny Holloway, who runs Fashion Enter, a government-backed project to encourage people back into the industry. She set up the Haringey-based factory partly as a training centre with funding from Asos, which last week announced it wanted to make more clothes at home. The online retailer is supporting the creation of a Stitching Academy, based at the Haringey site, which will run free six-week courses to train people as seamstresses and tailors.

The first "graduates" – 120 will be trained per year – finished last week; many hope to enrol on one of the new apprenticeship schemes run by firms such as M&S, Asos and TopShop. Shana Tekila, 18, hopes the grounding will help her fulfil a childhood dream of designing clothes for a living. For now, she is waiting to hear back from the east-London factory outlet Florentia, while running up outfits at home in the evenings: "I sit down at my machine; I'm happy."

Mr Beighton said increasing UK production made sense, given rampant wage inflation in China and pressure on commodity prices. The retailer uses the site, which can produce up to 7,500 garments a week, for items that sell out online. "We are backing... sure-fire winners," he said, adding that this avoided mark downs, which at about 30 per cent of sales are retailers' single biggest cost.

This compensates for higher labour costs, he said, which, combined with a two-week lead time – against up to eight weeks for something made in Turkey and three months for China – "means the economics are becoming favourable".

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

    Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

    £24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

    Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media