Why (not) Manufacture in the UK?

Content by:
Rob Moss - FreeHeel Design
May 25, 2022

Why (not) Manufacture in the UK?


While more brands are interested in creating soft goods in the UK, finding the right manufacturer can be hard.


FreeHeel Design is a soft goods design business with more than a decade’s experience translating high-quality ideas into high-quality product. We work on the sort of products people wear or carry uphills and mountains, on the ocean or on bikes (of the pedal and the motor variety). This means that over the years building relationships with overseas manufacturers has been critical; indeed, it’s why many brands choose us.  


Right now, more and more clients are interested in manufacturing in the UK #brexit #shippingcosts #sustainability. But while Britain is the 9th largest manufacturing nation in the world, inthe soft goods sector, finding the right UK manufacturer to work with is hard #choice#costs #capacity.


So, while it’s exciting more clients want to make product closer to home it’s also challenging. Challenging because of the deep expertise a Vietnamese or an Indonesian manufacturer can offer. Challenging because there are only a small number of businesses to choose from here, making it harder to find the right partner to meet the client’s brief. Challenging because the production prices offered overseas are much harder to match.


Where we’ve seen it work best, is where clients view manufacturing in the UK as a strategic imperative and are willing to invest in relationships for the longer-term sharing expertise and building capacity along the way. One example of a company with this type of ambition is Spinlock – along-time client of FreeHeel Design, and a sector innovator with over 40-years’experience designing and manufacturing for the marine sector.


Where it’s harder is with smaller and more entrepreneurial outfits, for whom the brand appeal of a Made in Britain label clashes with the economic appeal of lower sampling and production prices overseas, and where thinking is necessarily more short-term. For these businesses finding out that making something closer to home is not always the greenest option can also be a surprise.


It's frustrating but things are changing, Nilorn UK part of the Nilorn Worldwide Group, a supplier FreeHeel Design has strong connections with have since their infancy made printed labels for many of the UK clothing and product brands, so this helps support the shift. However the day when making our clients’ production of rucksacks, life jackets or motorcycle panniers in the UK is the first choice is not quite here yet.