As retailers are put under increased pressure to deliver quicker turnarounds on customer orders, could UK apparel manufacturing offer a solution?
Online shopping is booming in the UK and online sales in June 2018 accounted for 17.4% of total retail sales. As the online shopping arena continues to grow, so too do customer expectations, and clothing retailers need to respond quicker than ever before. They need to be on top of current trends and have the capacity to deliver what customers want, when they want it.
Today’s UK apparel manufacturing scene
Right now, UK apparel manufacturing accounts for just 6% of the UK fashion industry. The footwear and clothing manufacturing sectors now provide just 39,000 jobs; that’s 70% lower than in 1999. But as the retail industry evolves and consumer behaviour continues to change, more and more companies are looking for local alternatives.
One of the key struggles for retailers is finding a high quality, time-efficient and cost-effective manufacturing option. Two of the biggest obstacle facing retailers when it comes to the UK fashion manufacturing industry are:
- Retailers have been deterred from investing in UK fashion manufacturing because of ethical shortfalls and poor employment practices
- Many retailers want to use UK-based manufacturers, but there isn’t enough resource or government backing
On the flip-side, however, there are some factors that are pushing retailers to explore the options they have on home soil. Firstly, as customers expect quicker turnarounds on their orders, overseas options aren’t as viable as they once were. Secondly, in light of Brexit, there is pressure for companies to renegotiate trade deals with EU countries.
Combining these two factors with the growth of trends like Fast Fashion, retailers are seeking ways of streamlining their supply chains. One of the most appealing ways to do this is to relocate at least a percentage of the production process to a UK manufacturer. In the words of ASOS Chief Exec. Nick Beighton, “nothing can be quicker than producing in the UK.”
The role of Fast Fashion in reviving UK manufacturing
Fast Fashion involves retailers running tests on a selection of product by putting them to market and seeing which performs the best. They’ll then ramp up production of the most popular items to make sure they’re giving customers what they want. So, it’s not just the speed of getting products to market that is a challenge for retailers. It’s having the flexibility to increase production when needed to respond to the latest trends.
A locally-based supply chain gives retailers the opportunity not only to respond faster to trends, but to also reduce transportation times. This means retailers can offer customers fast delivery options, allowing them to meet and even exceed customer expectations.
One key player in the promotion of UK manufacturing companies is ‘Make it British’, founded by Kate Hills in 2011. The company aims to “help connect UK manufacturers with businesses that want to make quality goods in Britain”.
Brands leading the way
As fast fashion grows in popularity, there are some major fashion retailers who are in full support of relocating manufacturing activities to the UK. These include:
- Online retailer ASOS currently produces 3% of its clothing in the UK, working with two factories based in north London. Over the next five years, it plans to increase this to 10%, with Chief Exec. Nick Beighton commenting that they have “a lot of very competent UK manufacturers”.
- Online fashion giant Boohoo.com is leading the way with a reported 50% of production taking place in UK factories. Boohoo distributes its products from a central warehouse in Burnley, helping the company react at impressive pace to new and emerging trends.
There are several external factors affecting and applying pressure to UK retailers as a collective. Over the next few months, it’ll be interesting to see if the localisation of supply chains becomes a more widespread option for the retail sector.