Demand for designer fashion made in the UK has the potential to grow rapidly in the next few years and create thousands of jobs, according to the British Fashion Council.
About 8,750 people were employed at 137 companies making clothes and accessories for the designers who show at London Fashion Week and London Collections Men in 2013. The companies had sales of £1.76bn and contributed £732m to the UK economy, research by Oxford Economics for the British Fashion Council has shown.
But the study found that, with the right support, sales could increase by £406m by 2018, supporting a further 1,700 jobs, and contributing another £169m to the UK economy.
The measures needed to fully realise the potential of high-end fashion were set out on Tuesday by the British Fashion Council, alongside the UK Fashion and Textiles Association, Creative Skillset, the skills body for the UK creative industries, and retailer Marks and Spencer.
The high-end fashion manufacturing sector was often “invisible”, said Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council. This made it hard for designers to find good quality UK manufacturers and for these niche businesses to obtain the exposure and support they needed to attract customers from the UK and overseas.
The initiatives come amid broader efforts, led by Lord Alliance, to develop Britain’s textile industry. A number of high street retailers, including M&S, Karen Millen and Fat Face are also turning to UK manufacturers for special collections. Meanwhile, high street and online fast fashion retailers such as New Look, Topshop, Asos and Missguided, are using British factories to achieve faster delivery times.
Ms Rush said: “We do need to have a really strong high-end manufacturing sector to set the aspiration, and think about social mobility and skills training.”
Funding was needed to support high-end fashion manufacturers in London, where many were located, she added. While regional growth funds had helped manufacturers in other parts of the UK, this was not available in the capital. She said the industry could look to the work done in New York, where funding models for small manufacturers had been created.
One of the challenges for the sector was to encourage more young people to join the current ageing workforce, the research found. However, there was an opportunity to improve this through apprenticeships, with M&S already supporting nine apprentices.
Professor Christopher Moore, director of the British School of Fashion at Glasgow Caledonian University, said the designer fashion manufacturing industry in the UK had an image problem, which it needed to address to encourage more young people to enter.
“While there have been significant attempts, there is an absolute recognition that this is not a sexy place to be, or so it would seem,” he said. “If you look at Portugal, Spain, Italy or France, manufacturing of high-end fashion is a positive ambition . . . If we can tell the story that this is an industry of making beautiful things, that completely changes the temperature, feeling and sensibility.”