Production is officially underway at the AMA Group in County Durham, marking a rejuvenation of the North East’s clothing industry.
The firm’s facility in Peterlee has now begun work and the first 20 people have been recruited, with directors estimating headcount to have swelled to more than 150 people by the end of 2015.
Directors announced in February that they were bringing clothing manufacturing back to Peterlee, signalling the revival of an industry which was once at the heart of the area’s business community.
The region’s rag trade was left to hang by a thread in the 1990s when thousands of jobs were lost as factories closed and firms chose to outsource to cheaper manufacturers overseas.
In 1999, 4,000 jobs in the textile industry in the region vanished, with Berghaus in Washington, North Tyneside’s Textillion, JPS in Washington, Bairdwear in County Durham and Claremont Garments on Tyneside and in Durham all shedding jobs or closing operations.
Former Claremont Garments directors Julie and David Price and Paul Watts along with Steven Price and Steven Lawson, seized upon signs of revival of the industry to create the AMA Group Ltd and open a state-of-the-art facility on Whitehouse Business Park in Peterlee.
Mr Watts said: “After months of planning, it’s very rewarding to see garment manufacturing begin with the first production teams operating at our new premises. The revival of clothing manufacturing in the North East has begun.
“At its peak, the industry employed thousands of people in the North East and we firmly believe the plans we’ve put in place could recreate that success.
“This is very much the start of the journey for us. The first 20 employees are in place and over the coming months we will continue recruitment until we get to full capacity with in excess of 150 people employed. We’re very excited about what the future holds for us.
“We will be recruiting both experienced machinists and young people wishing to train for a career in the industry and anyone interested in joining the company should contact Jobcentre Plus at Peterlee for further information.”
Julie Price said: “The garments we will be manufacturing are soft separates ladieswear for a major retailer, however we are in talks with other companies and well known brands so there is the potential to expand our portfolio as the business becomes firmly established and production is scaled up.
“We know there is a genuine demand, from retailers and consumers alike, for clothing which boasts a ‘Made in Britain’ label so I see no reason why we can’t recreate the success of days gone by when clothing manufacturing was the bedrock of this area’s community.”
The beginning of production has been welcomed by the local authority and MP Grahame Morris, who view the AMA Group’s formation as a major leap forward for the area.
Grahame Morris MP said: “This is a great moment for Peterlee. The clothing manufacturing industry was once one of the area’s biggest employers and I am delighted to see its return along with the creation of more than 100 jobs. This is excellent news and a major boost for East Durham and the North East as a whole.
“I am a big supporter of local business and I will continue to do everything I can to help The AMA Group to implement their ambitious growth plans over the coming months.”
Joanne Urquhart-Arnold, Business Durham’s business development area manager for the east of the county, helped the company in their search for suitable premises.
She said: “Having worked with The AMA Group from the start, I know how much this means to them. This is a really exciting time for East Durham and very much the start of the journey to establish the clothing manufacturing industry as one of the area’s most successful employers.”
The AMA Group will be working with East Durham College to train employees who are new to the industry. Principal Suzanne Duncan said: “I’m so pleased that the college is doing its bit to support the company by training those employees without experience. It’s a great opportunity for them to find secure work in an industry which was once the bedrock of this area.”