I’ve just finished working on publicising a major conference for a new client, a group of City of London Livery Companies (The Clothworkers, The Dyers and The Weavers Company) – fascinating organisations with an illustrious history, they now do a lot of charitable work in supporting their root trades, particularly in skills. ‘A New Dawn: Rebuilding UK textile manufacturing’, co-sponsored by the companies and event managed by my occasional collaborator Abby Wright-Parkes of Optimist Consulting, was a great success (sold out to 250+ industry delegates; national media coverage).
From my side, I’m happy that this business story took off in the media – securing a slot on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, articles in the Financial Times, The Independent, Guardian, Metro, key trade title Drapers, Vogue.co.uk, Manchester Evening News and several other regional and industry outlets.
The overall messages have been positive – reports of the death of manufacturing in the UK, particularly in the textile industry, are greatly exaggerated. A number of businesses producing woven wools, cashmere, tweed and the like, are thriving at the higher-end of the market that appreciates excellent quality and luxury fabrics. And overseas markets such as the US, China and Japan can’t get enough of the cache of ‘Made in Britain’. Scottish cashmere producer Johnstons of Elgin (of whom Director James Sugden chaired the textile conference and did a sterling job as main press spokesperson) turns over around £50million per year supplying textiles to luxury brands such as Chanel. And who says we don’t make anything successfully in the UK anymore?
Our high-profile speakers, designer Sir Paul Smith and Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable, helped pull in the press interest, as well as delivering some positive support for the industry (particularly Sir Paul Smith’s lively and inspiring talk – here’s a fashion designer who understands the power of branding and PR, and, unlike ‘UK’ labels Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney, is a British brand still owned by a Brit!).
Lord Alliance has recently commissioned research into the economic viability of textile manufacturing in the UK compared to traditional overseas sourcing from Bangladesh and China. Preliminary findings were revealed at the conference and it appears the costs of sourcing overseas (particularly when taking into account levels of quality and reworking, and lengths of supply chains) are making the UK a much more attractive economic option once more (let alone in terms of the environmental and social benefits).
With the story sustaining a high profile, it’s now up to the industry to work with Government and help UK textile manufacturing thrive.