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Industry Talk

On a mission to secure future for UK manufacturing

The enthusiasm for manufacturing in the UK was almost palpable at this year’s Make it British Live! event in London.

5th June 2019

Knitting Industry
 |  London

Knitwear, Knitted Outerwear, Hosiery/​Socks, Knitted Accessories

Thousands of manufacturers, retailers, designers and academics gathered to showcase the creativity and diversity of UK manufacturing last week. © Make it British Live!

The enthusiasm for manufacturing in the UK was almost palpable at this year’s Make it British Live! event, which took place at its new home in the Business Design Centre, London, from 29-30 May. Thousands of manufacturers, retailers, designers and academics gathered to showcase the creativity and diversity of UK manufacturing and to share their inspiring stories at the two-day event, which included a conference and trade show.

“These are challenging but exciting times. In this fast-moving sector, with new products, trends and innovations emerging each year, collaboration is the key to success. This year’s event has been inspirational and it’s great to see so many people championing manufacturing in the UK,” commented Kate Hills, founder of Make it British.

Let’s talk

Environmental journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle was back for the third time to chair the conference, with talks focused around how making in the UK is sustainable and the growing importance of technology. “Let’s talk about the opportunities of sustainability and explore the reality of re-shoring and bringing manufacturing back to the UK. Let’s learn from people’s experiences and understand the barriers and opportunities so that we can be a force to be reckoned with,” urged Ms Siegle.

Julia Redman, head of buying at M&Co, took part in the panel discussion, exploring Fast or slow fashion – which does the UK do best? She concluded: “There’s room for both, it’s how we deal with it in an ethical and sustainable manner”. British knitwear designer Genevieve Sweeney agreed: “There’s a place for both if we invest in skills”. Henrietta Adams, who creates her own women’s clothing, Henri London, added: “We need to be more transparent with our customers to help them learn more about their garments and where they come from, to make sustainable, ethical fashion more desirable”.

Communicating better to customers was a theme also picked up by Tom Glover, managing director of Peregrine Clothing, who said: “We need to invest in retail theatre to show how the machines work and how the products are made in order to inspire our future customers”. Glover is proud that all the manufacturing for his heritage clothing brand is done at their own factory in the UK: “It gives us control over our manufacturing and control over the end product.”

Discussing small batch manufacturing

Three other people who have also set up their own manufacturing units in the last few years are Diana Kakkar, founder of garment manufacturer MAES London; Adam Robertson, Managing Director of Kalopsia Collective and David Williams, Managing Director of Knit Design Centre/Stoll GB.

Discussing small batch manufacturing, Mr Williams urged: “There’s a balance between creativity and the practicalities of making the product”. “Start small and work your way up,” advised Mr Robertson. Ms Kakka added a word of caution: “Glamorising fashion means we’re churning out designers not creators. Students are being taught the technical side, but not the skills.”

Craftsmanship versus technology

From skills to craftsmanship, craftsmanship versus technology was the theme of a panel discussion on day one. Mark Randle has been in IT for 35 years and spent the last five producing the Galaxius solution focussed on getting traceability back into garment manufacturing. This cutting-edge technology was instrumental in transforming the Fashion Enter Factory, which would undoubtedly have ceased trading otherwise.

Professor Stephen Russell, Director at the Future Fashion Factory, suggested: “There’s no conflict between craftsmanship and technology. Technology is the tool and the craft is what makes it work”. Andy Ogden, Director and General Manager at English Fine Cottons agreed: “The definition of craftsmanship is not necessarily just because it’s made by hand in the old-fashioned way. It’s about value and quality. Capability and excellence”. Nick Keyte, managing director of Gieves & Hawkes added: “It is important that we support craftsmanship and apprenticeships to keep making in the UK sustainable. But we must be relevant in order to survive.”

Story driven brand

Visitors to the show also heard from branding guru Simon Middleton who explained: “A successful brand is story driven”, a theme that also resonated with Paul Alger, director of international affairs at the UKFT. And there were plenty of inspiring stories over the two-day event.

Ed Oxley and Brant Richards, who co-founded HebTroCo, shared their entertaining story that “all began with a daft idea in a pub” and went on to make them a million in Brexit Britain. “It’s all about the stories behind what you wear,” they said.

Kate Dawson, owner and director at the All-in-one Company was back to share her inspiring journey as she celebrates 10 years of trading with the launch of the Onesie Builder. “We need to keep our skills alive and in order to do that we must be unique and outstanding in what we do,” he said.

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