The Textiles Industry

The textiles industry is alive and kicking and isn’t the dying industry it is often portrayed to be. Here’s information to help you provide evidence of this to others. 

Find out more about D&T textiles in schools 

Click here to find out about a free resource on careers in the fashion & textiles industry 

Looking for The Alliance Report about the textiles industry? Scroll down the page


The Textiles Industry

The textiles industry is one of the oldest in the world in one form or another. Indeed textiles is as old as people themselves as we have always sought textiles to meet our basic human need for clothing and protection. 

The word textiles is from the Latin word ‘texere’, which means 'to weave’, but nowadays the word refers to a wide range of flexible materials made up of fibres, yarns and fabrics. It also refers to a range of products, from clothing through to textiles used in high tech performance situations such as road building, building construction and the production of composite materials for car bodies. 

The historical importance of the textiles industry means that it has been highly valued, including within the historically male dominated world of business. Indeed weaving was the first industry to be fully mechanised and it was the catalyst to the Industrial Revolution. 

The UK has more than 79,000 textiles businesses, employing over 340,000 people. The gross value added for the sector in the UK is estimated at over £11.5 billion which makes up 3% of the UK economy (source http://goo.gl/vJrOY1). It is the 15th largest textiles manufacturer the world (source http://goo.gl/96hRZm)


Perceptions of the Textiles Industry

Textiles can often be pigeon holed as being about ‘fashion’, ‘clothing’, and ‘sewing’. Whilst these are an important part of textiles they do not fully represent the industry. Take a look at the careers section to find out about the wider range of textiles sectors and linked careers. 

Another perception about the industry is that it is dying but this couldn’t be further from the truth, indeed, The Alliance Report (2015) predicted a significant growth in the industry over the next 10 years (http://goo.gl/96hRZm).   Like any other industry, it is changing and evolving, often at a very fast pace, but this doesn’t mean it is dying. It is still one of the biggest employers across the world, with new areas of the industry constantly being developed. 

The industry has also found it hard to shake off the ‘sweatshop’ label. Whilst poor working conditions and low pay does still exist in the industry, it is wrong to think this is the only industry where these practices still exist. It is also wrong to assume that this applies to all textiles manufacturers and many factories are modern, high tech with good working practices. 


Changing the perceptions about what textiles is has proven a slow process. New developments in textiles materials and technologies is, however, going some way towards this. Indeed the UK is a major player in the technical textiles market, and this is a major growth area for UK industry. 


Use the evidence below to help you prove to others what an important industry textiles is, including a summary of The Alliance Report (2015) which is the most up to date report on the textiles industry and its future


The Alliance Report 2015

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This is a summary of The Alliance Report: ‘Repatriation of UK Textiles Manufacture’ which is the most recent report into the textiles industry.  
Click here to visit the New Economy website to download the full document

Background

  • The report explores the viability of growth in the UK textiles industry along with ways of supporting it
  • Instigated following global changes in the textiles market and in particular the success of British design and branding, both home and abroad, with many being prepared to pay a premium price for products made in Britain


Findings

  • The textiles industry is worth £11bn annually and is 15th largest in the world
  • 15,000 jobs in UK textile manufacturing could be created by 2020
  • Significant capability still exists in traditional sectors such as yarn spinning, knitting, weaving, making up as well as the growth of new areas in technical textiles, composites
  • Key clusters of production: Greater Manchester, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, East Midlands, Scotland
  • Rationale for sourcing from abroad has weakened because: consumers want shorter lead times, growth in demand for UK homemade products, recognition that some cost benefits of off shore production can be offset by other cost reductions from closer manufacturing, increasing energy & labour costs in other countries
  • River Island, ASOS and John Lewis are 3 major brands that are investing more in on shore production & others are following
  • There is a growth in niche markets around technical textiles, with lots of companies diversifying into this area. Estimates suggest this area contributes £1.5-£2bn a year to the UK economy.
  • The traditional 2 season cycle is less dominant as a business model with demand for on trend merchandise being driven by consumers with a ‘buy now/wear now’ mentality. Consumers are also increasing spending at high and low price points with reduction in mid tier spending. To remain competitive retailers therefore have to support in season trends and be able to respond quickly.
  • Online retailers often add new products each week which makes short lead times the key to success. It is easier to meet this type of demand using on shore manufacturing. 
  • Increase in manufacturing technology and automation bringing cost benefits, which for some products could make manufacturing on shore more viable. 
  • The market has moved towards having just the right stock to meet consumer demands as and when it changes which reduces the costs of over stocking. Manufacturing things globally makes this harder to do and the rising costs of transport also add to the overall costs.
  • UK manufacturing is proving more popular where short lead times are important, where manufacturers have significant input into designs, where tight controls on quality control are needed, and where provenance for a product is key (i.e. the ‘Made in the UK’ branding).


‘The more added value in the manufacture process, from design, to digital and panel printing, jersey and jacquard, embroidery and knitwear, the more the market can be made in the UK’


Issues Raised

  • An ageing workforce which is resulting in skills shortages
  • Large number of smaller businesses which means there are less ‘prime’ manufacturers who can afford to invest in research, innovation and upskilling
  • High land and energy costs in the UK impacts on manufacturing here as energy costs, in particular, are higher than most countries the UK competes against
  • There is concern that there is an inaccurate negative perception of the industry especially by young people. In particular the ‘sweat shop’ image is dominant when this is not generally accurate in modern manufacturing. 
  • There is also a lack of understanding of the breadth of careers in the UK textiles industry.
  • The report considers a rebranding of the industry and its opportunities to be a key step forward. 

Click here to download the above as a one page summary of The Alliance Report 

Click here to find out about a free resource on careers in the fashion & textiles industry



Other Related Articles

Want to find a local textiles industry near you? The Let’s Make it Here directory and the UK Technical Textiles Directory list UK companies. 

Find out what the University of Leeds, a Russell Group university, say about the importance of textiles

How textiles revolutionised human technology - article about the importance of textiles in the past and the future

Derbyshire company who are setting up their own sewing school to meet the demand for textiles jobs they can't fill

Article about how the textile industry in Scotland is struggling to get enough 'qualified, passionate young people' to meet the growing number of vacancies companies have because of increased orders

Video by Professor Dias, from Nottingham Trent University, claiming the development of smart and electronic textiles is a ‘second industrial revolution’. It might even help you justify some funding bids to help you add e-textiles to your curriculum! 

Interview that illustrates how the industry in this country is changing and how new technologies are supporting this development

Article by a UK workwear manufacturer on the changing face of the textiles industry

Article on engineering in fashion 

Article that illustrates why materials science is so important in the future of fashion and textiles


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