Leading figures from the workwear industry told delegates at a national conference that the way to move out of recession is to build partnerships in overseas markets and to innovate.
The WorkIT! Conference 2011, part of the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show, also heard that manufacturing is regaining strength in Europe and the UK as rising costs of transportation and long turn-around times makes manufacturing in places like China less viable.
A range of speakers took to the stage throughout the day to address concerns from the delegates in the room about how to deal with threats to the industry in the UK, particularly from overseas markets such as China and India where the cost of production is so much lower.
The message came back that businesses should be looking to excel in the areas they are strong in, to innovate and build trade partnerships in the new markets and to not complain that government is not doing anything to help.
Mike Madeiros, Supply Chain Manager at Pacific Brands which was using the event to launch its UK workwear division, said that there could be a resurgence in UK production as a result of rising costs in China.
He said: “By their very nature our supply chains are outsourced which means we rely on many things out of our control. That is why it is important that you know and understand every link in your supply chain, it has to be a collaborative effort.
“We feel there could be a resurgence in the UK in terms of production. As prices go up in China European manufacturers are becoming more viable.
“The Far East is no longer the only option. With the rising cost of fuel impacting on transportation costs, and the long turnaround times involved, the prospect of using mills in places like Eastern Europe and the UK is becoming a better option.”
The conference, now in its fourth year, took place at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, where more than 50 exhibitors were showing off the latest designs and innovations in workwear and corporate clothing in the main exhibition. The title of the event was ‘Professional clothing:The way ahead’, and Dr Kegang Wu, Managing Director of China Direct UK, made it clear which direction many businesses in the UK could take.
He told the conference that now is the time to consider investing in China, and building relationships which will lead to growth in this country.
He said: “We are facing a number of changes in China. We have a domestic market that is growing all the time and consuming European quality products such as Scotch and more Bordeaux wine than the French.
“The domestic market will continue to grow and producers will want to make new brands for that market instead of just exporting to Europe.
“Chinese firms want to make and sell quality garments now and they want to play a part in the European market. That is why the Chinese Government is offering grants to subsidise companies that want to come to China to invest.
“The value of the investment will only appreciate because the market is so huge, and you can deal in the Chinese currency RMB.
“But it’s also important to understand the Chinese manufacturers and the winners will be those who go into partnership and invest in the management of the factories.
“Joint ventures will bring together the low cost and equity from China with innovation and design from the UK.”
Ed Gribbin, president of Alvanon, summed up many of the themes from other speakers when he told the conference about the importance of consolidation as companies seek to find stability in an uncertain trading climate.
He said: “As a business you need to look at your core competencies, what is your expertise?
“You can’t simply complain that the Government isn’t helping, or that the playing field isn’t level, you have to look at areas where you can innovate and partner up if necessary.”
There was a total of ten speakers throughout the event chaired by Alison Daniels, news editor of Director-E, the trade website and magazine responsible for staging the Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show.
Following the conference delegates said they found the information was relevant and helped to form ideas for their business going forward.