The clothing industry is embarking on a resurgence thanks to a new business which is opening in County Durham, bringing with it over 100 jobs.
The North East 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 went, 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.
However, former Claremont Garments directors Julie and David Price and Paul Watts along with two other directors are seizing 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.
Production is expected to begin in early April and a recruitment drive, which will be phased throughout 2014 and 2015, is underway now.
The newly-formed firm is keen to employ a mix of young people, who will be trained in house and with the support of East Durham College, as well as experienced machinists who have worked in the clothing manufacturing sector.
Julie Price, who ran her own lingerie business Essensual Lingerie after the closure of Claremont Garments UK Manufacturing, has been working on plans for the facility with her fellow directors for a number of months after seeing a change in retailers’ and shoppers’ attitudes towards overseas textile manufacturing operations, the expected increase in costs to buy products from abroad and the lack of flexibility from countries in the Far East.
She said: “The clothing manufacturing sector was at the heart of North East industry for many years. But when retailers started looking overseas for the manufacture of their products in a bid to reduce costs, sadly the sector declined and eventually became virtually none existent.
“However, in recent times we have become much more conscious of where our clothing comes from, both socially and environmentally, and that, coupled with the inflexibility of sourcing products from overseas, prompted retailers to look at their suppliers.
“It was these factors which were the driving force behind us thinking seriously about bringing manufacturing back to the area.
“We’ve developed a very ambitious and exciting business plan which over the coming months will become a reality and I genuinely believe that we can lead the revival of the industry, not just in East Durham but the North East as a whole.”
The company will have three divisions of business: contract manufacturing of garments for high street retailers, supermarkets and designer brands; commercial training aimed at companies within and suppliers to the retail sector; and a consultancy service for retailers focussing on the design and development of garments and how to purchase the best quality goods at the most competitive prices.
Business Durham, part of Durham County Council, has supported the directors during the development of their ambitious plans and assisted with the search for suitable premises.
Joanne Urquhart-Arnold, business development area manager for the east of the county, said: “This is a massive boost for the East Durham area, not just because it will see the creation of over 100 jobs and support young people into secure employment but it will also see the revival of an industry which was once one of the area’s most important employers.”
The AMA Group Ltd will initially manufacture ladieswear and aims to supply to key high street retailers and well known brands.
Wherever possible products and materials will be sourced from the UK.
The recruitment drive will see around 50 people employed during 2014 with the remaining jobs - which will take the total workforce to well in excess of 100 - recruited next year.
Paul Watts will oversee recruitment on behalf of The AMA Group Ltd.
He said: “The jobs we’re creating are skilled and we are keen to employ a mix of young people in the 16-24 age bracket who want to learn and share our long term vision for the company and experienced workers who were employed in the sector in years gone by and would be interested in coming back.”