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Sector Information

The fashion and textiles sector is very diverse, and incorporates businesses across the clothing, footwear and fabrics supply-chain. It contributes around £10 billion to the UK economy each year. The sector encompasses raw material supply, through all processing stages, to finished goods – as well as ancillary functions such as design, trading, wholesaling, converting and support services.

The sector can be divided into three broad areas: design; manufacturing; and servicing. Typically, companies in the sector will be involved in one or more of the following activities:

  • Fashion design, tailoring and bridal-wear
  • Manufacture of sewn and knitted clothing
  • Manufacture of footwear and leather products
  • Manufacture of woven and spun textiles, including fabrics used to make garments, hi-tech fabrics, household linens and carpets
  • Textile dyeing and finishing
  • Commercial and high-street laundries and dry-cleaners
  • Wholesale activities
  • Shoe and clothing repair

Skillfast-UK Sector Skills Council represented the sector including the areas of: apparel; footwear and leather; textiles; and laundry and dry-cleaning. The sector is now under the remit of Skillset Sector Skills Council.

Source: Skillfast-UK AACS LMI report 2010 and Skillset website 2010


Economic profile of the sector

UK consumers spend more than £50 billion each year on the clothing, footwear and household textiles products supplied by the sector. Since 2003, expenditure on these products, measured in terms of constant prices, has grown by 15%, and the average household now spends £22 per week on clothing and footwear. Purchases of fashion and textiles goods by other UK industries for use in their production and service processes amounts to around £9 billion per annum. The motor vehicles sector spends more than £450 million on products such as carpets, technical fabrics and leather.

Due to the current economic downturn, exports of sector products fell by 7% (£42 million) in November 2008 compared with November 2007. Whilst the value of imports in textiles, apparel and footwear have been increasing, exports in apparel and footwear have seen significant growth and represent a future direction of high value British produced goods in the sector.

Source: Skillfast-UK AACS LMI report 2010, Strategic Skills Assessment for the Fashion and Textiles Sector in UK 2010, Working Futures 2007-2017, Skillfast-UK Sector Snapshot (Issue 1) 2009 and A five-year skills strategy for the UK fashion and textiles sector 2008

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Current and future employment

The fashion and textiles sector encompasses approximately 80,000 enterprises and 340,000 employees. Companies involved in the manufacture of textiles and textile products employ the majority of workers, 31.2% of the total sector. The sector as a whole is dominated by small and medium sized employers: 80% have 10 employees or fewer.

There are high number of opportunities for part-time work and self-employment in the sector. 11% of employment in the sector is part-time, below the UK economy average. Self-employment in the sector is 19% of total employment.

Employment in the sector is declining, and is predicted to decline further through to 2017. Over the next 10 years, employment is expected to decline by averaging around 3%-4% per annum, and accounting for the loss of over 40,000 jobs to 2017. Sharply declining employment levels in this sector have hit women hardest as those parts of the industry employing female machinists have been hardest hit by competition from cheap foreign imports.

The decline in employment levels will be the result of:

  • the contraction of manufacturing employment as low cost foreign competition squeezes the margins of UK firms leading to a continued trend towards overseas sourcing
  • labour productivity growth in both the manufacturing and wholesale/trading elements of the sector, putting additional pressure on employment

Niche markets in high quality products, such as specialised knitwear and sportswear, will suffer less from decline.

However, over the next 10 years, over a third of the current workforce on average will need to be replaced.

Source: Skillfast-UK AACS LMI report 2010, Strategic Skills Assessment for the Fashion and Textiles Sector in UK 2010 and Working Futures 2007-2017

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Sector vacancies

The number of unemployed claimants whose usual occupation relates to the fashion and textiles sector increased by 47% between September 2008 and April 2009.

There is a steep decline in the number of vacancies in recent months. Between January and March 2009 the number of sector vacancies was a 83% lower than for the same period in 2008, when vacancies were at their peak. For the same period in the wider economy, there was a fall of 35%.

Sources: Skillfast-UK Sector Snapshot (Issue 1) 2009 and A five-year skills strategy for the UK fashion and textiles sector 2008

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Skills gaps and future skills needs

The industry reports that there is capacity to employ more designers, if they enter the industry with the right skills.

Generally, the sector fails to attract its fair share of those graduates who enter management roles. There is a need to build understanding of opportunities at this level in order to secure the talent needed for management succession.

Sustainability issues present a critical and highly visible challenge to the sector. This is important in this context since young people give consideration to such issues when making career choices.

Source: A five-year skills strategy for the UK fashion and textiles sector 2008

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Future drivers and skills demand

The structure of the fashion and textiles sector has been impacted more than any other sector by the onset of globalisation. Globalisation, enabled by the dismantling of trade barriers, along with lower communication and transport costs, has seen lower value added manufacturing outsourced to low-cost nations.

This has transformed the way businesses operate, looking towards niche manufacturing, balanced supply sourcing or outsourcing operations in order to gain competitiveness within the global market place. Key drivers of skills demand in this context are:

  • the growth of fast fashion and technical markets
  • the British style
  • adaptation to changing technology
  • the impact of migration
  • the image of the sector
  • the sustainability agenda

The skills implications of the above drivers include:

  • a reliance on design creativity, allied to strong technical and commercial awareness
  • successful branding and marketing skills
  • the development of new technologies
  • the ability to compete in premium and niche markets on a global level by maintaining craft skills
  • maintaining the current trajectory of business start-ups by ensuring owner-managers have the correct skills available
  • ensuring UK firms have the ability to manage overseas supply chains and understand the product environment
  • the maximisation of production efficiencies enabling firms to reduce costs through multi-skilling
  • attracting a greater number of graduates into the sector (this is a key problem where strong leadership is needed in times of rapid change)
  • due to the long-term decline in apprenticeships and other development mechanisms, along with the negative image of the sector, the ageing workforce is going to be a key problem

Source: Strategic Skills Assessment for the Fashion and Textiles Sector in UK 2010

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