The textiles (clothing and apparel) industry is worth £32bn to the UK economy. During September’s London Fashion Week, British Fashion Council (BFC) CEO Caroline Rush was eager to point out that the sector is growing at 5.4%, far higher than the rest of the UK economy at 1.7%, demonstrating that the UK textiles industry is an attractive prospect for foreign investors.

The recent creation of the ministry for creative industries, and the appointment of minister Margot James, suggests an expectation of further expansion. The minister, also in attendance at this year’s London Fashion Week, was keen to endorse London’s role in the ethical fashion movement, by announcing that she was wearing UK fashion brand Mother of Pearl during her opening speech. 

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“The government is committed to giving creative firms across the country the support they need to compete on the global stage,” she said. “To help these businesses fulfil this ambition we recently announced more than £4m for the new Creative Industries Trade Board.”

With the surrounding uncertainty brought about by Brexit negotiations, the UK government is eager to use London Fashion Week as springboard to demonstrate to the public that it is proactively working to safeguard the industry that provides jobs for more than 890,000 people. 

New BFC chairman Stephanie Phair announced the promotion of three pillars: education, business and reputation, and expressed her objective of using the BFC as a platform to showcase London as “the global fashion capital, and that the businesses here and talent that studies here fuels creativity and innovation around the world”. 

Their campaigning has already paid dividends with the announcement on 25 September of the confirmation of new investment £500,000 secured for the BFC/Vogue Designer Fund from Chinese online firm JD.com.

“The development of the BFC’s China Fashion Business Network is a key pillar of development for the next 12 months, and many attendees at the lunch pledged their support to assist the BFC create a network of credible partners across investment, licensing, manufacturing, property, communications and retail in China,” the BFC said in a statement. 

Katie Hill, founder of Make It British (a platform launched in 2011 supporting UK manufacturers) added: “We’ve lost the mass manufacturing that has gone to China, but what’s left is some of the best craftsmanship in the world.” This refining of the UK brand of textiles manufacturing as home to the high quality and the bespoke could be interpreted as a contributing factor to the rapid growth and resurgence of manufacturing within the UK textiles industry. 

Mother of Pearl creative director Amy Powney explains the business challenges in attempting to have a 100% transparent and ethical business model that can be traced from the soil to the factory floor. Keeping production UK-based has proven to be a challenge for many designers, but as Ms Powney explains, “Proving that it can be done and setting a precedent was my priority.”

As Mother of Pearl debuted its No Frills collection, Ms Powney expressed her hope that other designers will follow suit. Entrepreneur Helen Newcombe was keen to highlight how platforms such as Instagram have assisted in the cost effectiveness of being a coastal-based UKcompany that manufactures locally and low-volume. The control over the supply chain and cost margins, proximity to the factory and close contact with the staff creates a better end product, Ms Newcombe explains. The drive for a circular economy, where waste is eliminated through recycling of discarded apparel, is seen as a new area for growth. 

Veganism, ‘clean eating’ and ‘clean living’ are trends derived from the wellness industry, estimated to be worth up to €26bn to the UK market in 2018 and $3700bn globally in 2015 according to the Global Wellness Institute. The drive for a healthier lifestyle, aided by social media, could also be external pressure, prompting this trend in ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices within the textiles sector as fashion brands compete to style themselves as accessories to this lifestyle trend.