Manufacturing in the UK: Advantages and Challenges with retail manufacturing

Following our very successful webinar on Wednesday, further evidence has emerged of the many points discussed regarding the need for more support in the manufacturing industry.

Manufacturing in the UK: Challenges and Advantages featured panellists from across our industry discussing the impact of Covid-19 on the textile industry and concerns at how the PPE industry needs further support and investment from the government.

Emerging evidence has now indicated that conditions in Leicester’s factories – primarily producing for Boohoo – are putting workers at risk of Covid-19 by remaining open for producing during the lockdown.

Numerous media reports have detailed illegal practises at Leicester-based garment factories linked to big brands for many years – the largest of these being Boohoo and its sister brands. Boohoo Group Ltd accounts for almost 75-80% production in Leicester and sources around 60-70% of its production from Leicester – although this has reportedly increased in recent weeks to around 80%.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, reports of bad practice, underpayment of workers and allegations of non-payment of holiday pay were also routine. Industry sources have stated that it is impossible to produce the units/garments requested by Boohoo for the product price as well as pay workers the national minimum wage. Wages of only £2-3 an hour have been reported as commonplace in Leicester factories that supply Boohoo and other e-retailers.

However, even before the crises, Boohoo was a brand that was regularly accused of driving prices down through directly setting suppliers into competition with each other. This means that illegally low wages, forced overtime and irregular working hours are more likely to emerge in supply chains.

The topic of manufacturing in the UK was very prominent in our recent webinar in partnership with Gerber Technology. Manufacturing in the UK: Challenges and Advantages was a huge success with nearly 150 people tuning in to watch some of our industry’s finest talking about their experiences in manufacturing and answering hard-pressing questions. 

Most notably, Jenny Holloway, CEO of Fashion Capital, had a lot to say regarding the challenges that arise in manufacturing within the UK – especially in regards to retail manufacturing.

“The opportunity for garment manufacturing has never been greater” she explained in Wednesday’s webinar. “We can’t just always just keep blaming the retailers, we cannot keep saying the prices are too low and there has to be an element of sustainability. We developed a system about four years ago where we turned the costing mechanism of our factory – we have 45,000 square units in North London paying prime costs in rent/rates – and we can make it work. So it is all viable.”

Jenny isn’t the only one who has proved how it is viable, even during the current pandemic. Simon Hunter, CEO of Hunter Apparel, not only kept on all his staff and manufactures during Covid-19, but he also managed to develop and expand his factory during the crises. Hunter also managed to develop new products at their NI R&D centre during the COVID period, and collaborate with Letterkenny University Hospital to manufacture masks.

Jenny went on to explain that one of the main issues regarding manufacturing within the UK is the lack of support from the government – and the lack of stability. There needs to be a better balance and an overhaul of how manufacturing exists and works in retail.

She also noted that she had spent her own time visiting factories during earlier job roles she had had. “Working in these amazing factories – it was regarded as a craft and as a skill. It was certainly not regarded as some kind of sweatshop second rate career – and I think that’s what’s really sad,” she concluded.

The PCIAW® will continue to work with the UKFT and the government to try and create an environment where manufacturers and employers can try to work securely and safely. As explained by Jenny, it is possible.

You can view the webinar in its entirety here.

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