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Rebranding Leicester’s Fashion Sector – Saj Khan

20 September 2021

The traditional model of manufacturing, with the exception of a few factories, was to use the limited resources they had to produce a garment as cheaply and quickly as possible with little regard to quality and craftsmanship. This very simple approach led to Leicester being labelled as a centre for “fast” fashion. Unfortunately, it also became synonymous with throw-away fashion.

The Covid-19 pandemic crisis coupled with the recent negative press has crippled the Leicester Textile sector and as such the only way to survive is to adapt and innovate.

For this sector to survive in the City, we want to move away from basic items to more value-added garments using better quality fabrics. The aim being to rebrand Leicester as a quality-with-speed producer. 

To keep production costs down and help maintain their competitive edge, we’ve talked about sharing resources through innovation.  That means perhaps buying in new machinery collectively and new ideas such as looking at sustainable fabrics and getting people to work together. There is also a need for upskilling the workforce to produce a more technical garment.  The other aspect is to have audit compliant factories that will give confidence to retail brands and encourage more of them to source locally.

Programme of Support

Through the Fashion and Textiles support programme we will work with local businesses in the fashion and textiles sector to discuss challenges, give guidance towards becoming audit compliant, look at ways of encouraging innovation and find new avenues to sell in.

A new focus in a smaller sector

There will of course be a drop in production because we want to shift the focus from producing cheap fashion.  Through doing it properly, we don’t need to worry about producing the same volumes of garments as before, because we will be producing quality garments which can command better prices and help absorb the extra costs.

The emphasis will be a better-quality garment and Leicester is ideally placed.  We just need to address the big issue of changing people’s mindset.  Brands like Boohoo have already moved a lot of their production from Leicester as a result of all the bad press.  Whereas we had around 700 factories before, following the end of furlough, I estimate we’ll have at most around 200 factories left.

In order for this smaller number of factories to survive we need to focus on improving quality and production standards.  This requires fresh thinking and a new approach.

New fabrics new ideas

We have been in touch with a number of Universities who are keen to help.  Both Keele and Huddersfield Universities are looking at improving efficiencies in textiles and working with new types of fabrics.  Our USP needs to change to being known for using recycled and sustainable materials sourced locally, thereby reducing our carbon footprint.  Some of Leicester’s fabric manufacturers have already begun to focus on making new fabrics with a big emphasis on sustainability.  At the moment, sustainable fabrics cost a lot more than normal fabrics, but that’s always the case when something new comes out. As it becomes more accessible, the prices will sort themselves out.

DMU are also keen to share ideas and look at ways their graduates and Fashion Department can engage with the local industry to help give the Leicester/Shire textile sector a facelift.  They’re quite keen to work with us on developing some types of sustainable fabrics.  They’re giving us access to their Fashion Department so it’s like a joint initiative where we will be willing to share resources and bring some of their graduates into the businesses and give them some real-life experience.  That’s the longer-term vision but not part of this programme just yet.

A new way to sell

The other aspect of this is to find new ways to sell garments.  My company, for example, has already moved on to service B2C. Because of Covid-19 it was necessary to find an avenue where we’re not just relying on the manufacturing aspect.  We did that online which was much easier and lower cost than retail outlets.  I think the traditional retail model is limited now, online is the way forward.  And if we follow this collective approach, we could also use it when we’re selling online to keep costs down and share expertise.

Individual Support

Our role will be to give guidance, so looking at health and safety, contracts, general working practices and human resources.  All we’re doing is preparing businesses for the real audit and increasing their chances of success.  We will use the FAST FORWARD AUDIT as our guide and will encourage the participants to sign up on their SUPPLIER ENGAGEMENT PROGRAMME (SEP) .

In terms of how long the programme will take, once we have finished the initial workshops, we plan to visit the individual factories at their convenience. We will work with them to put in place the requirements of the audit programme ahead of the real audit to help reduce any knockbacks. And of course, this programme is all at no cost to the businesses that take part.

If you’d like to find out more about the programme that Saj will be leading, just call our Business Advisers on 0116 366 8487.