Identifying and analysing UK fashion micro-clusters

17 May 2023

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Dr Dawn Ellams, 

Dr Dawn Ellams

Research Fellow at the Royal College of Art

Professor Susan Postlethwaite, 

Professor Susan Postlethwaite

Professor of Fashion Technologies at Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Patrizia Casadei, 

Dr Patrizia Casadei

Research Fellow in Innovation and the Creative Industries in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School

Dr Patrizia Casadei is a Research Fellow in Innova...

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Dr Jorge Velez-Ospina

Dr Jorge Velez-Ospina

Research Fellow in Innovation and Creative Industries

Dr Jorge Velez-Ospina is a Research Fellow in Inno...

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The UK's Fashion and Textiles industry contributed almost £20 billion to the UK economy in 2020 and remains a major UK employer with 500,000 jobs supported across design, manufacturing and retail. COVID-19 and the post-Brexit landscape exposed the UK industries' reliance on long, global supply chains as well as restricting access to skilled workers. In parallel, the sector faces further challenges to address sustainability and circular economy agendas, and to transition to net zero by 2050.

The UK sector is dominated by micro and SME businesses in fashion design and manufacture. While they are more vulnerable than larger businesses, they have demonstrated the ability to be more agile in response to external factors causing supply chain disruptions (such as Brexit and Covid), as well as adapting to more sustainable practices. However, accessing UK supply chain networks - at an appropriate scale and quality to support the growth of these businesses - is an increasing challenge.

This paper outlines findings from qualitative research which evaluated the benefits to UK-based micro and SME fashion businesses from being co-located within regional micro-clusters. It looks at the regional activities being undertaken by fashion firms working within micro-clusters and the challenges they face in the post Brexit and Covid-19 landscape, as well as specific sustainability challenges.

The research finds that regional fashion micro-clusters act as localised networks - providing access to skills and services for businesses based within them. The authors suggest recommendations for programme and policy initiatives to support the development of cluster and cross-cluster communities to enable wider access to these developing UK supply chain networks. These include investment in fashion micro-clusters as innovation hubs as well as supporting the expansion of the businesses operating within them into new markets.


Hero and thumbnail photo by Future Fashion Factory