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Make It British Survey reveals the bitter sweet outcome of Coronavirus

Kate Hills Make it British50% of UK fashion and textiles manufacturers are reporting an increase in new business enquiries linked to the ongoing impact of coronavirus, according to a survey carried out by Make it British.

Kate Hills, CEO of Make it British, explains: “Coronavirus is causing chaos for big retailers and their supply chains as many factories in China remain largely closed, where a large proportion of the world’s fashion brands are made. A lot of retailers are worried they’ll have no stock in their stores soon because so much comes from the Far East now, particularly in textiles. They’re urgently looking at how they can plug gaps for products that are due on shelves in as little as eight weeks. And that’s where UK manufacturers can offer a solution!”

Amongst the products that are being ordered are high summer stock, such as dresses and swimwear, as well as the raw materials to make winter stock, such as wool yarn and cloth. Sewing factories are also being asked to make face masks.

Whilst the increase in enquires for these manufacturers is good news, many are cautious of taking on lots of new customers. They fear that the work will be taken away from them again, once the Chinese factories reopen. They have had their fingers burnt in the past by retailers looking for a quick fix to supply chain issues and turning to UK manufacturers for a solution, often expecting to be given the same cost prices as they were paying the Chinese factories.

Whilst the current influx of enquiries might be just a flash in the pan, one thing the coronavirus outbreak has shown the industry is how fragile global supply chains are when something like this happens. 35% of the UK manufacturers surveyed said their own supply chains had been disrupted because many of their raw materials come from China or Italy.

Alkesh Kapadia of Barcode Design says: "A lot of UK manufacturers are relying on imported fabrics. The impact is growing and the prices of the raw materials has gone up by 4% already. The UK fabric manufacturers will get busy but they will have to source yarns from different countries and that may affect the prices too.”

Brands that manufacture locally and source their raw materials from the UK are in a much better position. When the whole supply chain is local, and is not reliant on crossing borders, it is much less vulnerable when something like this happens. This is a sentiment echoed by Steff McGraph of Something Wicked: “We’re relieved that we manufacture in the UK and use UK suppliers wherever possible. I would be extremely worried if I outsourced to China.”

Jenny Holloway runs Fashion Enter, a social enterprise garment factory in London, and describes coronavirus as a ‘dual-edge sword’: “There’s been a spike in sampling and we have opened two new accounts for bulk production almost immediately, but the downside has been yarn supplies. This in turn has created a further opportunity with retailers panic-buying stock fabrics, which is then coming to the UK manufacturers. Many knitters had bulk yarns in reserves. However, these stocks are going to run what then? Surely this all points to a new type of collaboration between retailers and manufacturers and not before time. We are already aware of one retailer giving shares to their supply base binding them together. It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go yet.”

China has been the dominant player in manufacturing for the last 20 years, but this worldwide disaster could be the turning point that UK manufacturers need to make people realise that sourcing closer to home is a better option. Some feel that Government should be doing more to help protect our UK manufacturing base. As Ihthshaam Sheikh from Ask Trading says: "Government should be providing funding to increase capacity so that we can show customers how great it is to manufacturer in the UK. This will in turn bring customers back, once they see the speed and quality."

Kate Hills concludes: “The spread of the coronavirus is happening fast, and there is no doubt more disruption is to come. But if there is one bitter sweet outcome to the tragic situation, it is that this might just be the wake-up call that the industry needs to relook at the wonderful manufacturers that we have closer to home.”