The big picture

The industry landscape

The fashion and textiles industry is one of the most vibrant, diverse and creative sectors in the world, and the UK industry is in a period of growth, with the design, manufacturing, wholesale, media and retail industry worth an estimated £26bn. The UK fashion industry is a leader in a fiercely competitive global market. To remain in this position, businesses must invest in their skilled workforce and continuously look for creative, passionate individuals with the drive to succeed. 

The growth of UK manufacturing

Both design and quality manufacturing within the UK is thriving. There is a rapidly growing demand for products with a “Made in Britain” label – recognised globally as a mark of quality.

High-end fashion manufacturing represents 15% of the total output of the UK’s textiles, clothing and footwear manufacturing sector; this area of the industry employs thousands of people across the UK, offering fantastic job and training opportunities.

Skills shortages have been identified as one of the main barriers to growth as the sector's current workforce ages. Research suggests that half of UK fashion and textiles employees are aged 45 years and over, retirement figures are soaring and demand to replace and increase recruitment into these roles is high. 

Demand for manufacturing skills

There is a need for people with high level technical skills across all parts of the fashion and textiles industry. The most in demand role is the sewing machinist, ranging from a production machinist to a sample machinist – the most highly skilled.

Sample machinists perform a key role in the development process of any garment. They could be based in many environments, for example at the head office of a high street retailer, in a high-end or luxury design studio or on sight at a manufacturer or sampling unit. They can be employed or freelance.

This role is most in demand within the high-end and luxury area of the industry which is growing rapidly. The highest concentration of brands and designer businesses are in London, which is also where the majority of high-end manufacturers are based.

High-end and luxury fashion

Designers could be producing exclusive one-off creations (including wedding dresses) that can cost thousands of pounds or producing small numbers of high quality garments sold at a high price point.

Designers need to work with highly skilled individuals both in their studios and at the manufacturers, efficiency and quality is a priority within the high-end market. There is a significant unmet demand for individuals with the skills required to produce high-end garments and businesses are keen to invest in training passionate young people to become the next generation of high-end fashion producers. 

Sample machinist: a key role

One of the most valuable job roles within the design and development process is that of a sample machinist. This is a challenging, exciting and creative role, working closely with the designer, who will rely on the sample machinist's expertise to achieve the desired end product and make their design come to life. 

A sample machinist usually works in a small creative environment which allows the team to share ideas quickly and easily. The role can vary from company to company, but in essence a sample machinist will produce mock-ups/samples and advise on garment construction, assembly techniques, fabrics and trim, while making adjustments to fit and style as the design develops. Each sample produced by a sample machinist is handled with care and kept for reference, informing the step-by-step creation of the finished piece. 

The route to becoming a skilled sample machinist is usually via on-the-job training, typically starting in a sewing machinist position and working up to this coveted role. Both designers and high-end manufacturers look for individuals with creative potential and once working towards this position, it is usual for employers to provide on-the-job training on different production methods, techniques and fabrics. This training can be supported by vocational qualifications or an apprenticeship. 

Resource pack

If you are interested in joining this vibrant sector, wishing to progress your career or formalise your current skills, this resource has been devised by experts in the industry to provide an insight into what is required and how you could get there.

If you are an employer wishing to evaluate staff skills, conduct training needs analysis, set targets, carry performance development reviews or assess the skills of potential recruits then this will be a useful resource to outline the industry standard.

Educators and course developers will also find the sample machinist resource pack useful in assisting the development of new, up-to-date, technically relevant training programs or in providing a benchmark to review existing courses against best practice within the fashion and textiles industry.


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