Having gained a lot of insight from the fantastic event last year, it was a pleasure to once again to attend Meet the Manufacture. The strong conference and workshop line-up was very thought provoking with a large number of topics and subjects concerning UK fashion and textiles manufacturing covered.
In many ways, it felt as if the conference this year had moved the industry narrative along. Whereas last year, much of the discussion was still around the debate concerning the possibility of the return of fashion and textiles manufacturing, this year, as roots had been taken, the question was more around the direction of the sector and what we may well be manufacturing and to what business models.
The publication of a number of key reports in the past year, namely the Alliance projects Repatriation of UK Textiles Manufacturing, the British Fashion Councils High-End Designer and Manufacturing study and the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership growth plan have all shown fashion and textiles manufacturing in the UK to be in a good (and hopefully sustainable) place for the first time in a long-time.
This optimism was made clear in the opening introduction by Kate Hills, the trade show and conference organiser and founder of Make It British. Kate mapped out changes she had witnessed since her first blog post in 2011 (that post for record asked the question, is anything still made in the UK?) and where the industry was still to recover from the financial crisis in the short-term and in the longer term, still up against the various global challenges that had seen and was continuing to see large amounts of manufacturing off-shoring.
Since this 2011 blog article, Kate outlined how a timeline of events (both cultural and economic) had benefitted the industry. Mary Portas promoted UK fashion and textiles though her high profile move into manufacturing with the production of the Kinky Knickers range which was broadcast on TV whilst the Made in Great Britain campaign was in full flow. 2012 saw the Golden Jubilee which encouraged people to talk once more about being British and which was quickly followed by the Olympics that saw the celebrations in the UK transmitted onto a global stage.
In terms of recent industry events, Kate sign-posted activities such as Burberry’s recent announcement of new facilities investment and job creation, English Fine Cottons this summer to begin cotton spinning in the UK for the first time in decades along with a raft of positive industry employment and economic figures all also point to an industry every more self-confident. Most tellingly, 58% of businesses polled by Make It British reported business to be better now than it was five years ago. All of this points to an industry moving forward.
Over the next week I will attempt to bring together some of the debates and talks from the conference that I found really illuminating. Much was discussed in terms of where the direction of the industry was going as many business models were described and how manufacturers and designers had found success by investing in the UK.