According to research from Make it British (MIB), 50% of UK fashion and textiles manufacturers reported an increase in new business enquiries linked to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus. 

Surveying 100 of its members, MIB also found that 35% of the UK manufacturers surveyed said their own supply chains had been disrupted, as many of their raw materials come from China or Italy. 

The manufacturers surveyed reported that products such as summer dresses and swimwear were being ordered, as well as the raw materials for winter garments, such as wool yarn and cloth, with sewing factories also being asked to make face masks.

“Whilst the increase in enquires for 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,” said MIB. 

“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.”

Kate Hills, CEO of Make it British, commented: “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.”

The coronavirus could be the turning point that UK manufacturers need to make people realise that sourcing closer to home is a better option, explained MIB, and some of the manufacturers surveyed added that they felt the government should be doing more to help protect the UK manufacturing base. 

“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,” added Kate. 

Alkesh Kapadia of Barcode Design explained how a lot of UK manufacturers are relying on imported fabrics. He said: “The impact is growing and the price 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, reports MIB. 

“When the whole supply chain is local, and is not reliant on crossing borders, it is much less vulnerable when something like this happens.”

“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,” commented Steff McGraph of Something Wicked. 

Jenny Holloway of Fashion Enter, a social enterprise garment factory in London, described the coronavirus as a “dual-edge sword”. She said: “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 out…so 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.” 

Kate added that she was not surprised there have been more inquiries to UK manufacturers as a result of the coronavirus, but with many manufacturers relying on imported raw materials, she thinks we will start to see everyone in the textile industry negatively impacted at some point.

“The garment decoration industry relies on a lot of different components, many of which come from outside the UK – whether it be blank T-Shirts from China, or machinery from Italy. 

“To mitigate the long-term impacts of the virus on their supply chain, businesses need to ensure they have spread their risk across several countries – that might mean sourcing more from the UK than they have done of late.”