Jenny Holloway on reviving UK manufacturing
It’s an almost unfathomable idea today, but if you went down the high street just 30 years ago to buy some clothes, it was almost inevitable that what you would come home with would’ve been made in a British factory.
The slow offshoring of clothing manufacturing in the ensuing years has decimated skills, know-how, jobs, reputation and economic value we once basked in.
The argument that we shouldn’t compete on skills where we are easily beaten by China is a flimsy one. We can compete on quality, and there is demand to support a UK manufacturing presence given the increasing numbers of small scale fashion and clothing brands setting up, growing and either looking to learn skills themselves or partner with a local manufacturer.
We run a production facility, a fashion studio and an academy, all of which make up a not-for-profit enterprise designed to help get fashion startups successfully off the ground.
A lot of people associate fashion with design, but the production side is just as important and can be enormously valuable if we get behind it. No one is saying UK manufacturing will be supplying Primark or other fast fashion retailers, but there’s undoubtedly demand in understanding old production techniques, developing innovative new ones and also buying products that have been made locally and with a social component to them.
There’s generally a belief that London isn’t a natural home for manufacturing. But that’s a completely baseless view, and sadly some very talented London-based production studios are excluded from grants aimed at reviving manufacturing purely due to their location in the capital. They should be supported just like ones anywhere else in the UK.
There is another false perception. Grants and schemes tend to be geared to youth. What about older people? Those over 40 have a lot to offer, especially when they are in a position where their children have left the nest and looking to develop new skills, begin a new career and add to the variety of life in an industry.
These wouldn’t be hand-outs, but a means of turning this segment of the population into active contributors to the economy, instead of being dependent on tax credits.
All of this is only possible if UK retailers begin to believe in UK production again. They should try; we have a proud history of it in the UK, and they may even find their consumers respond favourably to the stories behind clothes made in 2016 and even appreciate the quality.
Jenny Holloway is the founder of Fashion Enter