We get approached by lots of start-up brands that want to produce their activewear in a UK sportswear factory so that they can help local business and reduce their carbon footprint by sourcing locally.
We commend this approach, however, it’s not a simple as googling a UK sportswear factory due to the lack of expertise, skill, machinery and investment within performance sportswear.
A couple of years ago, we were asked to find a suitable UK activewear factory that could produce quality stretch sportswear for their activewear brand. We researched UK factories and visited 12 within the UK that claimed to produce performance stretch sportswear to try and find the best of the best.
We reviewed each factory and scored them out of 100 with a summary of how they would manage the production of stretch activewear. Many of the factories were small businesses with between 5-40 workers which is much smaller than our factories in Europe and the Far East and none of the factories made for established brands. Most of the production was for very small quantities, samples or team wear orders.
Unfortunately, our conclusion was not to place bulk production in any of these factories due to the overall quality of production, investment in suitable machinery and the organisation of the factory. We were incredibly disappointed in what we found. Machinery that was rusty, dated our broken and even a production line in one factory was a tiny room crammed with 10 old sewing machines that were pulled out one by one as needed to be used for individual orders and then stored again.
Fabric and trims were stored all over the place and many factories looked a complete mess with fabric cuttings all over the floor and shelves with fabrics and trims covered in dust.
One factory even refused our visit and emailed a reply “Why do you need to see our factory; we have been in business for 30+ years and don’t need you inspecting us to see if we’re capable or not”
Many of the factories couldn’t match threads to the body colour due to lack of their thread stock and one factory insisted they stitch production with either black or white thread only as this was “their standard”.
One of the factories we visited refused to estimate or quote bulk prices until they had completed all sampling which cost several thousand pounds. Since our visit, we have picked up 2 clients that used this factory who produced shockingly bad samples and then quoted a price for the bulk that was much higher than the brand’s RRP.
Our client at the time insisted we select one of these factories as their USP was “Designed and produced in the UK” so we selected the best and started the development. This was a complete joke. None of the tech packs was followed accurately and it took 7 rounds of samples on some styles before we were happy they got the pattern right. Sampling was complete and bulk orders were placed. Every order was late by weeks and every order was faulty. This client eventually agreed that they couldn’t continue producing with this factory as they were losing customers and they are now producing in Lithuania in a clean, efficient factory with new machinery that makes for established brands.
Note that this experience is based on performance sportswear specialising in stretch fabrics for gym/ fitness, cycle and run garments. There are several UK factories that can produce fantastic outerwear and normal fashion, however, if you are looking for a UK factory that can produce quality stretch lycra garments, then good luck and if you do find a suitable factory, let us know as we would love to produce garments in the UK.
Sourcing generally is becoming more local with many brands looking to move away from production being carried out far away and one day we hope production will return to the UK. For this to happen, there needs to be a big enough demand with sizeable orders so that the investment is warranted to set such a factory up.