It may seem like ages since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics were dominating the headlines every day, but few can forget the warm and fuzzy positivity that swamped the nation at the time.
In an attempt to keep this sense of national pride alive, a number of retailers have launched new ‘Made in Britain’ ranges that include everything from teapots to children’s shoes.
Debenhams, for example, has just announced plans to ramp up its use of British manufacturers. The retailer is currently calling on UK suppliers to get in touch so that it can bolster its domestic production – and help to revitalise the UK clothing industry – with its new bespoke ‘Made by Great Britons’ range. John Lewis is clearly riding this same wave, with a section of its website now dedicated entirely to products that have been made in Britain.
Apart from appealing to our sense of British pride, initiatives like these also make good business sense. As major economies like India and China continue to develop and the working conditions improve, labour costs will continue to go up in these areas, even though UK retail prices are likely to remain the same. As a result, the ‘all in’ cost of sourcing overseas is rising. New research by Trigon Diligence has actually shown that for some ‘high end’ items it is now actually cheaper to base production in the UK than overseas in many cases.
Keen to cash in on these benefits, both River Island and Arcadia have already increased the number of items manufactured in the UK, citing rising labour costs in China and increased demands to get product to market. River Island has actually boosted the volume of its products manufactured in Britain by around half over the last year, and the Arcadia Group has increased the number of British factories it uses by 20 per cent in the past year alone, to 47 from a negligible base several years ago.
Cost is just one reason for embracing the ‘Made in Britain’ movement, however. Speed to market is also crucial for fashion retailers that are looking to re-create the latest catwalk trends by turning their designs into production as quickly as possible. As such, it makes sense for them to use manufacturers closer to home whenever they can – especially if you consider the fuel costs and environmental impact associated with sourcing products from overseas.
UK production will also help to make response times much faster in other important areas. For example, at the sample stage, local sourcing will mean that retailers can get test samples much more quickly. Whilst it might take 4-6 weeks to get a sample sent from China (and then sent back again, if it is wrong), it may be possible to get a sample from a UK manufacturer in just a week. Likewise, it can often take six months to design, manufacture and transport clothing from China, whilst using UK plants could cut that down to a matter of days.
As a result, sourcing more products from the UK has already enabled River Island to get new fashion to its customers more quickly, and some have become bestsellers and as a result. Fortunately, this closer proximity to its suppliers also means that River Island can re-stock much more easily as needed.
The huge Spanish fashion distributor Inditex, which owns the successful Zara clothing chain, seems to have worked the benefits of this home-grown approach out a long time ago: it has always made its own clothing ranges in Spain. It’s great to see that British retailers are starting to realise the same thing, and reaping the same rewards.