British designers pin hopes on growing demand for UK-made clothing

London Fashion Week is in full swing and British designers are pinning their hopes on growing demand for UK-made clothing. The Albion Knitting company is one start-up which is already supplying LVMH, Gucci and Richemont.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (SEPTEMBER 21, 2015) (REUTERS) – When Christian Murphy was looking for a location to build a knitwear manufacturing company a year ago, he decided that London’s reputation for building luxury brands made it the ideal place to start his new business.

The founder of Albion Knitting Company, with clients like LVMH, Gucci and Richemont Group, is back in London after 18 years in China, and aims to offer something different to the plethora of young UK designers: a factory on their doorstep.

“I think production in China increasingly gets more and more expensive and many customers, especially luxury brands which are our customers. I think they’re looking for integrity of supply chain. Many of their customers especially east Asian customers, they want luxury products which are made in Europe, made in England, made in Italy.

Demand for British-made luxury goods is growing as consumers – particularly the Chinese who account for 30 percent of the global luxury market according to luxury goods consultancy Bain and Company – grow more demanding about the heritage and provenance of products.

“I wanted to proove it was really possible to build a modern industrial scale flat knitting operation in London in the heart of the creative and fashion hub that London is today.”

Over a quarter of British consumers have also said they prefer buying British brands when purchasing fashion and footwear products, according to a report by research firm Mintel.

Knitwear designer brand John Smedley, which makes all of its clothing in Britain, is another company betting on a resurgence in British textile manufacturing, which has seen output rise in the first half of the year, according to the Office of National Statistics.

It has even relaunched its womenswear collection to build on the success of its British-made clothing.

Richard Hunter, Head of Equities at Hargreaves Lansdowne believes re-shoring is a trend that’s here to stay.

“If the UK economy continues to benefit from the various measures that have been taken, it’s very much a possibility that particular trend could continue.”

The textile manufacturing industry had been in steady decline for three decades as firms opted for the competitive pricing of China and India. But it is slowly returning to growth as more businesses start to explore their domestic options.

From a designer’s perspective, manufacturing in Britain can be both beneficial and a challenge. British manufacturers can offer shorter lead times on orders as well as cost savings on transportation and materials.

But it can present many challenges as well, from not being able to find specific skills needed for production to a simple lack of investment in machinery.

“Very few people have gone into training in the last 20 years. So it’s been very difficult to find the skilled staff particularly in knitting and linking that we need to grow at the speed that we would like to be able to grow.” said Murphy.

The British Fashion Council (BFC) runs programmes to encourage their designers to source and manufacture more of their collections in the UK, but CEO Caroline Rush said there was a lack of transparency that made it hard for designers to manufacture in Britain.

The BFC, which provides booklets, reports and guides for designers to learn how to work with manufacturers, is aiming to create a database to help connect the two groups.

Replacing an ageing workforce also remains one of the biggest challenges in helping Britain’s textile manufacturing industry regain its former glory.