Bernard Birt is a Member of the Institute of Clothing & Footwear (ACFI). His early career (13 years) was with Desmond & Sons (Major supplier to M&S) where he served as General Manager working in both local and offshore manufacturing locations. He is a founder shareholder of Tailored Image and has led the company’s strategic expansion into the provision of added value managed services.
The implications of COVID-19 are, and will be, far reaching for this sector in the widest sense. What do you think will happen over the next 12 months? What major shifts/changes can we expect?
The COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly force changes in our industry that will be far reaching and long lasting. I believe that customers will demand even more flexibility from suppliers, with a focus on manufacture which is closer to home. UK manufacturing will provide a safety net in a potentially unpredictable supply chain. Rapid response production will be key to fill any gaps caused by supply chain disruption. Parallel sourcing will be more important than ever; suppliers must able to switch the point of manufacture swiftly and smoothly if the need arises. We expect our customers to view us as a ‘one stop shop’, not just for uniform items, but also to include safety items such as masks and gloves as standard. Reliable and cost-effective supply of these items will become increasingly important to all uniform suppliers.
On a local level, we will be challenging all working practices and implementing effective changes. Working from home and staggered working patterns will all become key. Of course, our customer interactions will change, with technology playing an ever-increasing role.
COVID-19 is likely to test the ability of every CEO in every sector. What attributes do you think will be important in regard to your own ability to manage your organisation through COVID-19 in 2021/22?
The number one attributes for CEOs in the age of COVID-19 are flexibility and resilience. At Tailored Image, we pride ourselves on being flexible in our approach to delivering exceptional service to our customers.
We also need to manage our resources more closely than ever, ensuring that the business is working as smart as possible. We need to keep our teams motivated, whilst always striving to provide our customers with an uninterrupted service experience. An innovative approach is key – investigating new and improved ways of measuring wearers remotely, as well as providing options such as antibacterial fabrics. Over the years, our industry has faced many challenges, but with the right attitude we have overcome them, and we will overcome this challenge as well.
What do we need to do differently as sector to ensure we maximise the health of the sector over the course of 2021/2022?
Something that became apparent during this recent crisis is that the uniform industry does not have a high enough profile in the UK. We must continue to lobby government to work with us in the provision of items such as face coverings and coveralls. We are the experts and we should shout about that, ensuring that in future we are the first point of contact.
In addition, there is a clear skills shortage in the garment industry, particularly around the technical area of our business. Investment in education is important to ensure the industry remains buoyant. Making the industry attractive to the younger generation through design and technical roles will keep the industry vibrant.