Garment decorators and other textile manufacturers are being urged to adopt more digital technology after the success of an initiative in north-west England.

The call for more digitisation in the region has been made by Made Smarter, the programme set up by industry to grow UK manufacturing through digital technologies, innovation and skills.

As part of Made Smarter’s programme for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the north-west, 125 companies have already tapped into impartial expert technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help them take their first steps, a leadership programme, digital technology internships and skills development support.

Participants include Cumbria Embroidery & Print in Barrow-in-Furness, a manufacturer of corporate and personalised workwear uniforms and leisurewear, The Uniform Factory, a textile printing and embroidery specialist in Liverpool, and Stockport-based Creative Apparel which offers printing and embroidery for workwear and fashion.

The North West Adoption Programme has led to 13 textile businesses, supported by matched funding, invest in new digital technology to solve key challenges while increasing productivity, growth and creating new high-value jobs.

Tibard, based in Dukinfield in Greater Manchester, which makes uniforms for Pizza Express, Wagamama and the NHS, benefited from Made Smarter’s digital transformation process before securing support to invest in a modern CAM fabric cutting machine with connectivity to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Ian Mitchell, managing director of Tibard, said: “Made Smarter has helped us develop a digital strategy and accelerated our adoption of advanced manufacturing technology. The last two years have been extremely challenging, but we had to diversify our products and customers and are now currently operating at three times our pre-Covid capacity.

“A key element of this is the automation and data and system integration work being undertaken by our digital department. We are eager to modernise our operations to help achieve our goals. Made Smarter has certainly supported our journey and without this new machinery, we would not be able to provide the best value for garments for both the hospitality and healthcare sectors.”

Made Smarter continues to focus its adoption programme on the the north-west, which is synonymous with the “first” Industrial Revolution, believing that the region has “a golden opportunity” to lead the fourth industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0. There are more than 1,000 fashion and textile manufacturers in the north-west employing around 15,000 people and with a collective turnover of £1.83 billion.

Alain Dilworth, North West Adoption Programme manager at Made Smarter, said: “The textile industry in the north-west was at the centre of the first industrial revolution with technological advances enabling cottons, wools, silks and dyestuffs to be produced at unprecedented rates for export around the globe.

“It is fitting that Made Smarter is now offering its support and expertise to help the same industry embrace the opportunity to lead the fourth industrial revolution.

“Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the industry with supply chains broken, falling sales and regrettably, some businesses having to close. Rebuilding is an opportunity to create a more sustainable approach which enables better resilience by taking advantage of the new digital technologies.

“I am delighted that Made Smarter has been able to support so many of the region’s textile manufacturers to start their digitalisation journey. Our ambition now is to reach out to the hundreds of others across the region to support them to take their first steps to future-proof their business.”

Made Smarter is providing support to the fashion and textile industry which is under substantial pressure to change to reduce its environmental and social impact.

It is responsible for 10% of all global carbon emissions, water pollution from the use of chemicals and dyes and microplastics in the oceans as well as very high levels of waste. In the UK, 300,000 tonnes of clothing – worth an estimated £140 million – are sent to landfill or incinerated.

Digital transformation is enabling a move away from traditional production methods and processes to make and decorate clothes, footwear and household textiles.

Made Smarter points out that digital textile printing produces less waste, requires little set-up and equipment, and uses fewer resources such as water.

Companies are opting to provide more data to boost transparency across the supply chain, such as QR codes to detail the item’s country of origin and carbon footprint. Others are using analytics to track fashion trends and cycles, helping reduce the number of clothes that end up in landfill.

Commending the impact of the programme, Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), which brings together a network of 2,500 designers, manufacturers, agents and retailers, said: “The success of the Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the north-west has demonstrated the value of targeted support for SME manufacturers to help them take those first steps on their digitalisation journeys.

“The UK fashion and textile industry has a worldwide reputation for originality, quality, and innovation, combining skilled design and craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology.

“To continue building on this achievement and ensure the UK remains competitive against global competition, manufacturers need to embrace current and emerging technologies, and the huge potential digitisation offers, as well as to raise the skills and productivity of the people who work in our sector to the highest level.”