THE BLOG

The Garment Industry Monster

08/03/2016 15:31 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 10:12 GMT

The garment industry is a monster- why can't we find more diverse clothing?

My Mother grew up after the war at a time when most wardrobes were home- made, my grandmother was a gifted seamstress, and trained milliner, who used to make every bit of her daughters clothing. Shop bought clothing was considered a great luxury.

When I was a growing up, my Mum used to take me to one of the only two shops available locally to buy my clothes, and for some reason after struggling with a choice of around three dresses I can distinctly remember coming out of the shop in a bit of a grump vowing that when I grew up I was going to make clothes for little girls so there would be lots more of dresses to choose from.

Mothercare beat me to it by a few decades and within a generation the choice of mass produced clothing exploded, however I did follow my intent to make clothes that would offer more choice to children. After training as a textile designer, following a great career in the textile industry working in fabric and garment design, trend prediction, and supplying all the UK high street stores, I decided one day that maybe children who were "different" because they were sitting in wheelchairs probably didn't have many clothes to choose from and maybe they felt a bit grumpy about it in the same way I had when I couldn't find anything to fit me when I was young.

I had no first-hand experience of disability, and a great deal to learn about the requirements of "adaptive" or "specialised" clothing as it tends to be referred to. My first thought, that the greatest need would be for children in wheelchairs, turned out to be quite wrong.

I was shocked at the difference between the garments I had been making for Asda - including fairy dressing up costumes that required six months development, two or three re makes and generally including a gruelling trip to Hong Kong and China before arriving in store. The competition was fierce to out design, out price and out-source these garments quicker, more creatively and cheaper than your competitors, and this was all for something a child didn't exactly "need".

Meanwhile the children who really did have specific needs, maybe to cover up the fact they wear nappies their whole life, or are fed their drugs or food by tube every day, or struggled to get a coat on because they are in a wheelchair, had at best a home- made version, or often nothing at all to make a difference to their specific dressing needs.

Using my previous experience of creating garments to high street standards, I was able to create a range of commercial garments to suit the requirements of children with very specific needs. It was possible because of my previous experience, however there was a big problem - the entire garment industry had grown into a monster!

The requirements of the high street stores and pressure of the ever expanding and changing commercial fashion industry meant that no supplier was interested in making small volume runs of specialist garments. The industry was geared up for fast fashion, massive quantities and in the case of supermarkets no profit margin at all as this was cleverly made elsewhere due to the amount of money the supermarkets were making overall and their ability to make money out of their crippling ( to the suppliers) payment terms.

Truly inclusive fashion that covers every shape, size, and difference, really requires someone like my Grandmother who had the skills to make clothing to fit individuals. So although we have come a long way in offering a choice for a lot of the population, at the same time the increasing amount of the people who do not fit the "normal" size clothing on offer are being left out.

Hence the gradual realisation by the very blinkered fashion industry that there is much broader demand for clothing than exists, hence the increase in outsize ranges, adaptive clothing, big boob bra ranges, petite sizing, even clothing for pets.

There is so much work to be done before the balance is better between the volumes required by the monster of an industry and their ability to offer choice for true inclusion and diversity.