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".

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
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

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

    Technical Sales Manager

    £45000 - £53000 Per Annum plus bonus plus package: The Green Recruitment Compa...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor