The Textiles Industry

Return to the main D&T Textiles page to see other resources


The textiles industry is alive and kicking and isn’t the dying industry it is often portrayed to be. Here’s information to help you provide evidence of this to others. 

Find out more about D&T textiles in schools 

Click here to find out about a free resource on careers in the fashion & textiles industry 

Looking for The Alliance Report about the textiles industry? Scroll down the page

The Textiles Industry

The textiles industry is one of the oldest in the world in one form or another. Indeed textiles is as old as people themselves as we have always sought textiles to meet our basic human need for clothing and protection. 

The word textiles is from the Latin word ‘texere’, which means 'to weave’, but nowadays the word refers to a wide range of flexible materials made up of fibres, yarns and fabrics. It also refers to a range of products, from clothing through to textiles used in high tech performance situations such as road building, building construction and the production of composite materials for car bodies. 

The historical importance of the textiles industry means that it has been highly valued, including within the historically male dominated world of business. Indeed weaving was the first industry to be fully mechanised and it was the catalyst to the Industrial Revolution. 

The UK has more than 79,000 textiles businesses, employing over 340,000 people. The gross value added for the sector in the UK is estimated at over £11.5 billion which makes up 3% of the UK economy (source). It is the 15th largest textiles manufacturer the world (source)

Perceptions of the Textiles Industry

Textiles can often be pigeon holed as being about ‘fashion’, ‘clothing’, and ‘sewing’. Whilst these are an important part of textiles they do not fully represent the industry. Take a look at the careers section to find out about the wider range of textiles sectors and linked careers. 

Another perception about the industry is that it is dying but this couldn’t be further from the truth, indeed, The Alliance Report (2015) predicted a significant growth in the industry over the next 10 years (source).   Like any other industry, it is changing and evolving, often at a very fast pace, but this doesn’t mean it is dying. It is still one of the biggest employers across the world, with new areas of the industry constantly being developed. 

The industry has also found it hard to shake off the ‘sweatshop’ label. Whilst poor working conditions and low pay does still exist in the industry, it is wrong to think this is the only industry where these practices still exist. It is also wrong to assume that this applies to all textiles manufacturers and many factories are modern, high tech with good working practices. 

Changing the perceptions about what textiles is has proven a slow process. New developments in textiles materials and technologies is, however, going some way towards this. Indeed the UK is a major player in the technical textiles market, and this is a major growth area for UK industry. 

The Alliance Report 2015


This is a summary of The Alliance Report: ‘Repatriation of UK Textiles Manufacture’.  
Click here to visit the New Economy website to download the full document


  • The report explores the viability of growth in the UK textiles industry along with ways of supporting it
  • Instigated following global changes in the textiles market and in particular the success of British design and branding, both home and abroad, with many being prepared to pay a premium price for products made in Britain


  • The textiles industry is worth £11bn annually and is 15th largest in the world
  • 15,000 jobs in UK textile manufacturing could be created by 2020
  • Significant capability still exists in traditional sectors such as yarn spinning, knitting, weaving, making up as well as the growth of new areas in technical textiles, composites
  • Key clusters of production: Greater Manchester, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, East Midlands, Scotland
  • Rationale for sourcing from abroad has weakened because: consumers want shorter lead times, growth in demand for UK homemade products, recognition that some cost benefits of off shore production can be offset by other cost reductions from closer manufacturing, increasing energy & labour costs in other countries
  • River Island, ASOS and John Lewis are 3 major brands that are investing more in on shore production & others are following
  • There is a growth in niche markets around technical textiles, with lots of companies diversifying into this area. Estimates suggest this area contributes £1.5-£2bn a year to the UK economy.
  • The traditional 2 season cycle is less dominant as a business model with demand for on trend merchandise being driven by consumers with a ‘buy now/wear now’ mentality. Consumers are also increasing spending at high and low price points with reduction in mid tier spending. To remain competitive retailers therefore have to support in season trends and be able to respond quickly.
  • Online retailers often add new products each week which makes short lead times the key to success. It is easier to meet this type of demand using on shore manufacturing. 
  • Increase in manufacturing technology and automation bringing cost benefits, which for some products could make manufacturing on shore more viable. 
  • The market has moved towards having just the right stock to meet consumer demands as and when it changes which reduces the costs of over stocking. Manufacturing things globally makes this harder to do and the rising costs of transport also add to the overall costs.
  • UK manufacturing is proving more popular where short lead times are important, where manufacturers have significant input into designs, where tight controls on quality control are needed, and where provenance for a product is key (i.e. the ‘Made in the UK’ branding).

‘The more added value in the manufacture process, from design, to digital and panel printing, jersey and jacquard, embroidery and knitwear, the more the market can be made in the UK’

Issues Raised

  • An ageing workforce which is resulting in skills shortages
  • Large number of smaller businesses which means there are less ‘prime’ manufacturers who can afford to invest in research, innovation and upskilling
  • High land and energy costs in the UK impacts on manufacturing here as energy costs, in particular, are higher than most countries the UK competes against
  • There is concern that there is an inaccurate negative perception of the industry especially by young people. In particular the ‘sweat shop’ image is dominant when this is not generally accurate in modern manufacturing. 
  • There is also a lack of understanding of the breadth of careers in the UK textiles industry.
  • The report considers a rebranding of the industry and its opportunities to be a key step forward. 

Click here to download the above as a one page summary of The Alliance Report 

Click here to find out about a free resource on careers in the fashion & textiles industry

How the Textiles Industry is Changing 

Take a look at this video on the future of fashion and textiles (it’s a long one but shows how fashion and textiles is changing)

Want to find a local textiles industry near you? The Let’s Make it Here directory and the UK Technical Textiles Directory list UK companies. 

Find out what the University of Leeds, a Russell Group university, say about the importance of textiles

How textiles revolutionised human technology - article about the importance of textiles in the past and the future

Fashion’s Fourth Industrial Revolution  - how the way we communicate, and consume fashion is changing, including 3D printing, biomaterials and artificial intelligence. 

Derbyshire company who are setting up their own sewing school to meet the demand for textiles jobs they can't fill

Why STEM Subjects and Fashion Go Hand in Hand (read the full version of this article here)  - how the future of fashion will be influenced by STEM and how traditional fashion and textiles courses are not the best route for everyone

London Fashion Shows Engineering a Way Forward  - engineering in the fashion industry

Article about how the textile industry in Scotland is struggling to get enough 'qualified, passionate young people' to meet the growing number of vacancies companies have because of increased orders

Video by Professor Dias, from Nottingham Trent University, claiming the development of smart and electronic textiles is a ‘second industrial revolution’. It might even help you justify some funding bids to help you add e-textiles to your curriculum! 

Interview that illustrates how the industry in this country is changing and how new technologies are supporting this development

Article by a UK workwear manufacturer on the changing face of the textiles industry 

Article that illustrates why materials science is so important in the future of fashion and textiles

Really interesting article on the future of smart textiles. The quote at the end by Eric Perlinger, President of Filspec Inc is particularly interesting, “What seems like fiction today is rapidly becoming reality as advances in fabric-related technology grows exponentially. Essentially what happened to the mobile telephone in the last 15 years will happen to textiles in the next 15.” 

How textiles education needs to keep up with advancements in technology. This article comments that fashion colleges have been slower to integrate new technologies than other forms of design education meaning that fashion students are at a big disadvantage when it comes to collaborative work. Sabine Seymour, founder and chief executive of Supa, a biometric data company, says that education needs to provide students with a more diverse set of skills and that many students currently don’t have the technical knowledge required to work in the intersection between fashion and technology. Matthew Drinkwater, head of fashion innovation at the London College of Fashion, says ‘The merging of fashion and technology requires a very diverse skill set — design, coding and engineering. It’s unusual right now to find all of those in one person. So as this new industry is being built, we will need to see the digital designers of the future graduate with a much deeper understanding of those areas.’ Although the article mentions higher education the content is very relevant to what we do in schools and shows the increasing importance of science, technology and computing in the fashion industry., speaker at Fashion Tech Forum in California, a , “The future of fashion is going to be a tech company unless fashion gets up to speed right now……I love fashion, but as an industry, if you were to take consumer electronics and fashion, one is really slow and kind of blind from what’s actually happening right now and that’s the world of fashion. The world of fashion does not realise how their jobs aren’t going to be around 10, 20 years from now because of how slow you are moving to innovate.”  Find out more about Fashion Tech Forum 

Return to the main D&T Textiles page to see other resources

Want to contact us?

© Boyd Education  2012   text, images & ideas on this website are the copyright of Julie Boyd & may not be copied or reproduced without permission.. All rights Reserved.