RETAILERS are “reshoring” orders from the Far East as expectations grow that ministers will back plans to launch a textiles “centre of excellence” in the Borders.
James Sugden, director at cashmere weaver Johnstons of Elgin, said the “tide has turned” for the Scottish textiles industry.
Sugden is backing plans to establish a £4 million innovation centre at Heriot-Watt University’s campus in Galashiels, which is home to a school of textiles and design.
He said the “time is now” for the Scottish Government to back the innovation centre in an effort to underpin the industry’s waxing strength.
Next month finance secretary John Swinney will meet the Scottish Textile & Leather Association, of which Johnstons of Elgin is a member and which is pushing for the establishment of the centre. The Scottish Funding Council initially refused to back the plans.
Sugden said: “Innovation is the key to our future. We need to take on new technology and we also need to make completely new products. But because of the fragmentation in the industry we need some educational back-up.
“The time is now. There has never been a better moment to start. Forget the oil and gas industry; they have a lot of money. Forget financial services; they have had their moment. Manufacturing has been on its own for so long. When people think about a mill, they think it is dark and Satanic. We have fantastic customers and products. I think we will get it.”
The 200-year-old family-owned firm, which has operations in Elgin and Hawick, saw a dip in revenues last year, Sugden admitted, although sales are back on track in 2013 as demand from customers in China recovers.
He points to the six apprentices who are working at its mill in Hawick this year as a sign that the company is investing in much-needed skills.
“We are investing in apprenticeships much more than we ever have done before because there is a time-bomb ticking in the age structure of the industry,” Sugden said.
In addition to supplying luxury designers such as Brora, Burberry, Chanel and Hermes, it has been manufacturing its own line of knitwear for the past 30 years. Sugden said that British retailers ordering stock from local manufacturers allows them to be more flexible and better able to meet demand.
The mill in Hawick can fulfil re-orders for a successful product line much more quickly than factories in the Far East.
“These are very exciting times for the industry,” he said. “The tide has turned. The decline of manufacturing and the wave of importation that started in the early 2000s and decimated the industry in Scotland and the UK has stopped.”
Sugden will speak on Thursday at a lunch for the Wellbeing of Women charity at Merchants’ Hall in Edinburgh.
Johnstons of Elgin is the latest company to benefit from manufacturing shifting to the UK, with department store John Lewis announcing in July it would “reshore” textile production. Other brands heading to Britain include Airfix, Aston Martin and Pot Noodle.