Graham Thompson, MD of Xamax, discusses the real cost of manufacturing in the UK and argues that encouraging young people to pursue a career in textiles is vital for the industry’s continued growth

Graham Thompson, founder and managing director of Xamax, the branded workwear and sports clothing specialist, has worked in the manufacturing industry for more than 25 years. He is no stranger to the challenges that have faced the sector over the last few decades; however, Graham is convinced that change is in the air and UK textile manufacturing is on the rise.

“The UK clothing manufacturing industry has experienced a revolution of late, and with a report forecasting a boom in the next five years, along with the creation of thousands of new jobs, the outlook for textiles is looking brighter than ever. Confidence is returning to manufacturing and companies are more positive about the economic outlook. There was a time when no one was willing to invest in the sector or focus on growth; however, we have seen an increase in such investment over recent years. People are continuing to recruit for skilled jobs and have put plans in place to invest in the coming year. Whilst there is still some caution about taking too many people on too quickly, there is definitely a scope for a manufacturing revival.”

The real cost of manufacturing

Graham continues: “One of the biggest changes to occur is the industry’s attitude towards the cost of manufacturing in the UK. The general misconception is that it is considerably more expensive to produce clothing in the UK as opposed to Bangladesh and India, but there has been a notable shift in companies sourcing garments locally.

“If you take a look at the label on a garment, the majority of the time you will find that it has been produced in the Far East. But buying and importing goods at fixed prices from suppliers in another country creates hidden costs for retailers. For example, longer lead times could mean that the item has to be sold for a discounted rate when it actually arrives due to a change in trends or simply as a result of a longer run. Clients don’t like to be kept waiting.

“What people are starting to realise is that it is just as profitable to manufacture in the UK, and that this brings with it many benefits: although labour costs are always going to be higher, and rightly so, these can be offset by the supply chain factors and the quick response.

“UK factories have the advantage of being able to turn around jobs in a matter of days, respond quicker to new designs and proceed with shorter runs and no minimum order quantity. This is making the idea of manufacturing in the UK more appealing and is causing a shift in companies’ attitudes towards producing garments in this country.”

Xamax has invested heavily in state-of-the-art equipment to support its continued growth and ambitious expansion plans

Graham adds that changes within fashion have also contributed to the increased demand for fabric sourced from the UK. “Consumers now want and expect a lot more. As a company, we have to find supply immediately, which means short lead times. Therefore, sourcing fabric from outside of the UK just isn’t an option; to meet with consumer demand we have had to change the way we do business.

“Whether you operate online or from a physical store, you have to be on-trend. There has been an increase in the types of fabric that people now want and the designs that they choose. This has led to a lot of companies looking to increase their capabilities so that they are able to manufacture and embroider fabric on-site.

“Here at Xamax we can handle the whole process from start to finish. As soon as an order is received we will source the fabric, cut, sew and decorate the garment as desired before preparing it for sale.”

Investing in the future

Graham feels that there are several factors that need to be addressed to support the continued positive growth of the manufacturing sector in the UK.

“One of the main barriers to manufacturing is the low number of young people that choose to enter into the industry. For one reason or another young people do not realise that they could build a career in textiles, but we must encourage them to visit factories and see that there are lot of opportunities out there. Whilst it is not going to happen overnight, as an industry we all have to work together to show the younger generation that there is lot to be said for working within clothing manufacturing.”

Graham concludes: “There is a real determination to revive the UK textile manufacturing industry as there is huge potential, but it is going to take some time. There is no quick win and while the first steps have now been taken, in order for the sector to really take off we need to keep the momentum going. As a nation we have a lot to offer, what we must do now is share the successes of the companies that are paving the way for the future.”