Why The Fashion Industry Is Awesome But What It Needs To Survive & Thrive By Jenny Holloway CEO Fashion - Enter.
The Fashion Industry is awesome! It contributes over £1.4billion in GVA to East London alone. Fashion related jobs in Haringey north London, (where we are based) have increased by 136% between 2010 and 2015 and in East London and Upper Lea Valley there has been an increase of 10,900 jobs during that period too. Garment manufacturing is back and it’s here to stay!
However it’s been a long hard climb since we opened our factory almost ten years ago now.
As an ex Senior Buyer I can remember the heady days when M&S used to manufacture 94% of their garments in the UK. I used to visit the large scale factories based in Barnsley and Nottingham and I can distinctly recall the pride of British sewers expertly producing quality garments for a host of high street retailers. I didn't realise how amazing those factories were at that time; shame on me!
Will those days come back? Not necessarily to the same scale and size of the factories that I visited in the 1990s but the re-shoring of production is definitely occurring now and is set to grow as more and more retailers understand the importance of Speed to Market and reducing quantities of buys so the exit margin is key and not the intake margin.
We started Fashion Enter, a social enterprise committed to attaining excellence in skills training and quality of production, in 2006. During this time we have seen a dramatic increase in demand for sampling, grading and core production from the high street, start-ups and scale up brands; in the last six months in particular our enquiry rate has increased by 65% alone. Brexit certainly has positively impacted on domestic demand for quality garments made in the UK.
However, to capitalise on this growth of demand for garment production we need a skilled workforce and this is where the dual edged sword of Brexit has hurt the garment making industry. 85% of our current workforce is from the EU and this is true for many London based manufacturers as well. The decision to leave the EU created immediate job losses with some staff feeling hurt and literally packed up their bags to return back to the East European countries of Romania, Bulgaria and Poland.
In 2008 we opened the UK's first qualified Stitching Academy that's twinned to a production floor with grateful thanks to asos who provided funding for machines. At the time the qualifications did not exist at level 1 or 2 for technical skills such as industrial pattern making, a Stitching operative and quality control with ABC Awards so we rolled up our sleeves and wrote them with help from John West (who is now at UKFT) and lots of patience by ABC Awards too!
I also went back to night school for four years to train as a teacher, assessor and then an Internal Quality Auditor too. I am a firm believer that if you are going to do a job then do it properly and the culture of our company is that we want to excel; we wanted to be the best training provider in the delivery of technical skills.
The resulting qualifications have been fantastic! There are now literally 100s and 100s of newly skilled machinists ready to perfect their skills in a production environment and I believe I am right in confirming that the fastest growing qualification for ABC Awards in 2017/18 was the level 1 and 2 award and certificate in stitching! Just brilliant news for the industry at large.
However we now need more skills to stretch and challenge our learners as well as offering the industry the fine skills needed for all types of production in the UK. Hence the Fashion Technology Academy (FTA) was born in 2015 which included qualifications across the entire garment life cycle incorporating fabric inspection, laying and cutting, quality control and machine maintenance.
The academy is the first apparel manufacturing training academy in the country to operate alongside a live factory environment ensuring that students gain exposure to real manufacturing whilst training for their Level 1, 2, 3 and 4 qualifications, emulating the apprenticeship programme also run by us. We have a total of 33 retailers engaged with our technical apprenticeship programme including Ralph and Russo, Harrods, asos, Tesco and Mountain Warehouse. The FTA was set up with support from Haringey Council, DWP and asos.com - their help and support was just invaluable.
In 2017 Fashion Enter commenced their Tailoring courses delivering qualifications from level 2 - 5 including the prestigious Bespoke Tailoring Diploma with employers such as Gieves and Hawkes and Harrods. The successful implementation of the tailoring training then helped to support an application to create a new Tailoring Academy with Mayor of London's Good Growth Fund in 2018. A new state of the art Tailoring Academy will be opened in April 2019 which will be an extension to the existing site of the FTA on Crusader Estate North London.
Employer, Mark & Spencer commented:
'Maintaining our leadership position in garment quality and innovation is of utmost importance to M&S. To deliver this now and in the future we recognised the need to build a new talent pipeline for garment technology and have just launched an Apprenticeship scheme in partnership with Fashion Enter.
Fashion Enter has given us excellent support and advice in setting the programme up. They invested time in understanding what M&S looks for in future talent and the type of people who thrive in our business so that they could shortlist the best candidates. This was a huge help given that that we had over 500 applications!
Before the Apprentices joined Fashion Enter advised our line managers on what to expect from the programme and how to get the best from their Apprentice. All of the Apprentices have made a great start and have impressed us with their passion for clothing and enthusiasm for learning. We’re looking forward to seeing them develop over the course of their Apprenticeship and hope this will be the start of a very successful career'