In today’s modern world we enjoy a choice of clothing that would have been the envy of the most flamboyant courtiers of the 17th and 18th centuries. Overall the cost of our clothes are getting cheaper, and as such it is easy and affordable for us to follow trends set by the world of fashion and design. Even if it is just to purchase our office suits or corporate uniforms, we are sure to be able to find the right fit in terms of style, comfort and colour. As of the 21st century there is an imbalance as to where our clothes are brought and sold. On the face of it, it is a global industry which has a yearly turnover of between 1 and 2 trillion dollars, depending on whose figures you wish to believe. This financial reality enables the clothing industry to directly employ approximately 30 million people worldwide. In short, it is a hugely important global enterprise.
Concentration of trade
The figures mentioned above collectively represent approximately 7-10% of global exports, again depending on whose figures you believe. However, almost 70% of this economic activity is centred on the US and Western Europe, with a further quarter being centered on the Far East, the difference is dispersed over the rest of the world. Over a quarter of all production of textiles now occurs in China. It is not surprising the Chinese economy has the largest slice of this particular global pie.
Where does the UK fit in?
The UK textiles industry has declined severely since the 1920’s but is still a huge employer and imports almost 4 million tonnes of clothing and textile products every year, working out to be approximately 60Kg per UK citizen. Approximately two thirds of this raw material is composed of synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon. The industry then recycles this material for the domestic market and additionally exports almost 1.5 million tonnes of clothing and textiles (mainly carpets) every year. The UK population spends something like £1,000 per capita per year on clothing, the weight is recorded as approaching 3 million tonnes.
In the UK the focus is increasingly – if not almost entirely – on design as opposed to manufacture. Only high end production has escaped the systematic deline in UK textile manufacturing. Additionally, it is these high garments that provide the mainstay of UK clothing exports to the US and Japan. Science and fashion are also enjoying something of a fusion. The advent of nano technology is producing the very real potential for new markets covering corporate clothing suppliers to the development of specialist medical attire.
Overall, clothing and fashion is here to stay and as an industry will continue to grow, develop and innovate and the UK will continue to be a player as the future unfolds.