Five years ago Inbusiness reported a British textile manufacturing revival, ‘led’ by Lancashire. It reported that, after decades of decline due to rising foreign competition, tariffs and protectionism, and Britain’s high cost base, some manufacturers are successfully competing with overseas suppliers. This 2012 text prompted a search to see what is happening today.
Leigh Spinners, once a cotton mill, operated by the family firm that built it, now focuses on making carpets and synthetic turf. John Morrison, managing director explains:”About three years ago we decided to convert to tuft grass, artificial grass,” he explains. “We make 150,000 square metres a year. There is big demand, for school playing fields, and so on”. Its huge listed building is now underutilised and Leigh Building Preservation Trust is working with the Prince’s Trust and Leigh Spinners to restore the building for additional uses.
Lance Mitchell, of Mitchell Interflex in east Lancashire, makes cloth, furnishings, interlining and traditional narrow striped fabrics for deck chairs and might have further diversification in mind as he finds the ‘industrial side of fabrics’ fascinating: “Modern fibres are being developed all the time – McLaren cars are based on a woven product, and the next generation of aircraft, they say, will be woven”. This brings to mind the work done on hemp-based panels for the car industry (‘biocomposites’) piloted earlier at the University of Bangor.
S Dawes Weaving in Nelson makes ‘high end’ jacquard fabrics for the furnishing, upholstery, industrial and apparel markets (including organic cotton), as well as high-performance fabrics for the automotive and defence sectors. In 2015 Dawes upgraded its design capability with the purchase of the Ned Graphics software system along with new Jacquard looms. This was followed by further capital investment last year when they took delivery of a Karl Mayer GOM Sample Warping Machine. June 2017 saw another major investment: a new single end Jacquard machine – one of only 3 in Europe. Their prices are similar to those of comparable material made in the Far East because of the difference in transportation costs and taxes. Dawes’ designer Joanna Brocklebank (above) oversees the designs for such clients as John Lewis and Laura Ashley.
Community Clothing is a manufacturers’ cooperative (workforce above). On top of intense competition from cheap labour markets one of the biggest challenges the UK factories face is the seasonality of demand. For several months of every year even the best factories are operating at well below full capacity. Community Clothing was founded in 2016 to address this exact issue. By utilising the spare capacity to make a range of stylish, great quality, British-made clothing, Community Clothing are able to create job opportunities and stability, filling British factories all year round.
David Collinge manages John Spencer Textiles, a family-owned company in Burnley, which had formerly specialised in shirt materials but had to find a new market. They began to make fabrics for the Ministry of Defence, for combat clothing, artillery uses and parachutes. They also developed their own brand in furnishings and home textiles. They are to invest £400,000 in new technology and equipment with the support of a £55,000 grant from the N Brown Textiles Growth Programme.
Bolton Textiles Group supplies contract furnishing fabrics and production and design services to retail, hotel, cruise ship, restaurant and bar operators The Bolton Textiles Group comprises four companies, Rufflette, Cliq Designs, Sinclaire and JH Cunliffe & Co, covering textiles, manufacturing, weaving, yarn processing and ‘cut, measure and trim’ services. The companies share two factory sites in historic converted mills in Bolton and Rochdale, producing curtains and curtain tapes, quilted and bedding products and fabric designs.
Lancashire Textiles persevered throughout the difficult times and continues to be a strong and successful business. Its workforce produces superior quality products manufactured in-house to British Standards 5335 1994, 5852 parts 1 and 2 and 7175. It has a vast range of online products and an experienced sales team. Its products range from quilts, pillows, cushions, mattress toppers, mattress protectors, duvet covers and other bed linen, to bath towels and made to measure items.
The latest news from the county is that the Lancashire Textiles Manufacturing Association ran its 7th Student Study Tour on 17th May this year. The study tours give textile undergraduates from Manchester Metropolitan University an opportunity to see commercial textile production. They visited D H J Weisters in Darwen, which weaves quality fabrics, Blackburn Yarn Dyers (cotton and blended yarns) and John Spencer Textiles in Burnley where they saw a range of fabrics being produced, including curtaining, protective clothing, fashion and industrial fabrics.
It is often recorded that investment in better machinery brings rewards and a fairly new development in the SME sector is the acquisition of software for a whole range of purposes from marketing management to stock control; Dawes installation of NED Graphics is one example. Another company recently recommended OrderWise which automatically accounts for stock levels, forecasts demand, forwards orders, records minimum stock requirements and even emails, faxes or prints orders then sent directly to suppliers in their native currency.
27 textile companies in Lancashire have been supported by the N Brown Textiles Growth Programme delivered across the UK and funded by the Regional Growth Fund. Set up by the Manchester Growth Company for the Combined Authority in Greater Manchester and the Alliance Project, this programme has created or safeguarded 443 jobs in Lancashire and encouraged investment by these companies: with over £1.7m of government funding since 2014, the textile companies in Lancashire have invested almost £7m.