“There has been a lot of noise about UK manufacturing in the past few years, but this is probably one of the first pieces of concrete evidence to support what we’ve been hearing,” said Adam Mansell, chief executive of the UK Fashion and Textiles Association (UKFT). “It is a significant turnaround from where we were.”
The UKFT has compiled the report from various sources, including the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Revenue and Customs import and export data, and now plans to produce it annually to give a clear picture of the UK manufacturing landscape.
It shows that the number of firms producing textiles and apparel rose to 7,880 – a 7.6% increase on the previous year. The biggest increase came from a rise in the number of apparel manufacturers, up by 10.7% to 3,830 companies, while the number of textile firms had increased by 4.9% year on year to 4,030.
“A number of factors have been driving this increase, such as the rising cost of overseas production and the increasing need for supply control and flexibility on the part of retailers and brands, as well as greater consumer awareness of UK production and the continued export demand for UK-produced textiles and apparel,” said Mansell.
The UKFT argues that the growth rate could be even higher than the ONS’s statistics suggest, as the data covers only companies and self-employed individuals registered for VAT and PAYE. The ONS estimates that about 50% of businesses in the UK fall outside this category.
Previous work carried out by the UKFT suggests a large micro-business community in the UK making textiles and clothing.
The number of people employed in textile and apparel manufacturing (including self-employed) is at its highest level since 2006, at about 132,000, according to the UKFT.
“Much of this rise has been due to large increases in apparel manufacture workforce numbers in recent years and correlates with current sentiment, especially around increased activity concerning cut, measure and trim units,” said Mansell. “The number of employees in textile manufacturing has also risen in this same period, although this is reported to have fallen back slightly over the course of 2015.
“It is fantastic that UK industry has been able to maintain itself through some tough times, and it is a real testament to those companies that have invested in manufacturing here, in their staff and companies.
“There are lots of great examples, such as one London-based apparel manufacturer that likes to go under the radar, but which started five years ago with five people and now has more than 65 people,” he said. “Or there’s the likes of Fashion Enter, which started in 2010 and now has more than 100 people in Haringey, in north London. And that’s not forgetting all the textile firms who have invested a lot in recent years, or brands that have built themselves with a DNA of British manufacturing, such as men’s lifestyle brand Shackleton.”
The report said there had been a mixed start for textile and apparel manufacturers in 2016, but that underlying factors such as rising wages overseas and retailers wanting greater flexibility and control over their supply chains presented a positive long-term picture for manufacturing in the UK.
Mansell said that, as the European Union was the main trading partner for many UK manufacturers, Brexit presented a challenge, although the full impact was yet to be understood.
It could also provide new opportunities for the industry, he said, as sourcing in euros and dollars became more expensive. He also underlined the need for further government support relating to apprenticeships and funding for export missions.
“It is certainly not smooth sailing from here, but these figures show things are moving in the right direction. Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for once,” he said.