Yuppie is fashion’s next big thing. Paradoxically, the new corporate costume of Generation-Z is the power-suit silhouette of the 80s. The look of interns hoping to navigate capitalist structures in our COVID-19 remote-work-world revolves around the revival of the suited Wall Street look with a touch of knowing self-reference embellished with rudiments of playful style. The inspiration for the young ironic nostalgic dresser or “yindie” is Donald Trump’s classic navy suit jacket and Diana Spencer’s sloane ranger chic as portrayed in the current season of “The Crown”. It is a look that leaves behind the present fix on the heritage brands of the 90s. What does this mean for the reshoring of manufacturing?
British entrepreneurs have long grasped the advantages of offshoring. In 1613, the East India Company established its first “factory” in the port of Masulipatnam that was famous for its Kalamkari block-printed textiles. In the 1750s, Bengal’s textile exports were valued at 16m rupees. At those days’ rates of exchange, this sum was equivalent to almost £2m. Silk exports from Bengal were worth 6.5m rupees annually until 1753. Between 1801 and 1839, three hundred and twenty-seven British owned galleons were built in Bengal by Indian ship builders.
Before COVID-19, offshoring manufacturing was essentially offshoring responsibility and pollution. Two thirds of emissions from the UK clothing industry occur overseas. Out of sight, out of mind. Prompted by COVID-19 and Brexit, manufacturers in the UK have now started using a new “dating service” to reshore manufacturing. PP Control and Automation, a provider of strategic outsourcing solutions to machinery builders across Europe, is part of the new UK “Manufacturing Unite” (UKMfgUnite) group. The group emerged in response to the COVID-19 ventilator challenge. “Manufacturing Unite” is a nationwide effort to bring supply chains back to the UK.
This requires government support, conviction, effort, planning, and foresight. In a COVID-19 frame, it is commercial suicide to support long lead time stock. The longer the lead time, the more stock you will need to hold in your inventory. Longer lead times make deliveries more unpredictable and can force a company to rely heavily on demand forecasts to make orders. COVID-19 has wrecked the pre-packaged lunch and snack market across Europe as people work and study at home. Nims Fruit Crisps took a severe whack from COVID-19. The company nimbly switched to selling dried fruit and vegetables to companion snack-makers. The changes to its supply chains produced a 20% spike in revenue. These subtle shifts by manufacturers and retailers are part of the smart changes to supply chains that have been prompted by both Brexit and COVID-19.
Inversely, in the United States, lawmakers considered legislation, that is now shelved, that would have tightly restricted imports of cotton into the US from Xinjiang. China produces about a fifth of the world’s cotton, most of it from Xinjiang. It is also the world’s largest importer of the fibre, including from the US. With Xinjiang producing much of China’s cotton and textiles, the legislation would have affected US companies like Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Patagonia. An essential feature of the proposed import ban was that it covered the entire supply chains for cotton, from yarn to textiles and apparel.
In the UK, Ted Baker has already launched “Made in Britain”. Made in CARICOM must be next. Asos started production of its new lower-priced range “AsYou” in Leicester at its new factory. A no-deal Brexit can stimulate tariffs of 12% on clothing and 16% on footwear. Consumers and investors who are demanding greater emphasis on sustainability and adherence to the green targets of the “Thunberg Turn” alongside new ethical signposts are influencing the change. Consumers are now concerned about the environmental cost of shipping goods from Asia. The ethical supplier “Fashion Enter” is making clothes for Asos at a new factory that has reemployed seventy of the former sewers of Laura Ashley. Revenue at “Fashion Enter” is up by more than a third this year.
Retailers are now scouring for more responsive suppliers close to home after the uncertainties of the pandemic highlighted the inflexibility of supply chains linked to Asia. “Over-50” hired thirty new dressmakers and invested £4.5m in a textile factory in Derbyshire, where it will print and dye its own fabrics. This makes manufacturers accountable and gives them control over each stage of production. This economic strategy escapes any conflation of production that is geared to drive economic recovery with haute couture or bespoke tailoring.
Beijing born Guo Pei tailored a dress for Rihanna. The now-famous Yellow Empress cape had a sixteen-foot train made using resurrected techniques of couture that were once purged. The dress featured over 50,000 hours of hand embroidery that took two years to complete. It is a dress that a woman must carry on her arms to lift its weight. It is for every woman who must lift the whole world each day. A dress tailored by Guo Pei can cost £500, 000. Sometimes she uses strands of her own hair to stitch a part of a dress. Guo is the subject of a book and documentary named “Yellow Is Forbidden”.