Burberry is set to invest £50million in a new plant in Leeds. Many speculations followed post this announcement. While many industry insiders are viewing at an employment increase in the region’s textiles sector post the announcement. Globalisation hit the textiles industry hard in this region, as fibres, fabrics and processes which were easily automated moved offshore. Some labour intensive garment assembly processes, finishing and design have remained, benefiting from proximity to retail markets, the ability to switch production quickly and lower transport costs. But even here, there has been an inexorable decline overall. What is clear is that there is now a more equal balance of power between retailer and supplier than existed up to the late 1990s. Rising global demand for British styles means that suppliers no longer have to depend on supplying direct to retailers.When Baird lost its contract with M&S in 2000, it switched to a brand-led strategy and was subsequently taken over by Jacques Vert, which operates a brand portfolio through concessions in department stores.
Burberry best illustrates this alternative, independent, strategy. Burberry’s Gabardine woven trench coats are quintessentially British and at the centre of the company’s global marketing campaign aimed not so much at Britain, but at the burgeoning markets of Asia and the Americas. The authenticity that the expanding middle class of Beijing and Sao Paulo demand can only be guaranteed if the product is genuinely UK produced – hence the investment in the Leeds plant. Add Burberry’s commitment to production efficiency and to the support that Leeds offers as a centre of textile heritage, education and design-led innovation, and the ingredients for sustainable, high quality, volume production are all there. The scope of the resurgence in textiles in the north may well be limited, but is perhaps enough to arrest further decline in the sector, and indeed may signal a way forward for other brand and design led textile firms. Many unsure nods are also quite pronounced through the industry and it is time that will say what trend revision Burberry can bring forth in Leeds.