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Fashion experts discuss Manchester's rebirth from "Cottonopolis" to E-Commerce capital

15th November 2017

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The revival of Manchester’s fashion industry in the digital age and how our lives are becoming faster and smarter are some of the topics to be discussed at Digital Fashion Futures, an event panelled by some of the city region’s most influential fashion industry experts and famous faces.

On 15 November, BBC Digital Cities Manchester which is funded by Creative Skillset, will showcase the next generation of women’s fashion designers, pattern cutters, display bio-fabric wearables and the latest integrated technology as part of a week of activity promoting cross-sector collaboration between creative industry professionals. This allows delegates to develop industry-related skills. Digital Fashion Futures will be hosted by BBC North West Tonight presenter and Social Media Lead, Eno Eruotor, a former fashion designer with a retail and wholesale business which also included concessions with Topshop. This year’s panellist event will take place at the Second Floor Bar and Brasserie, Harvey Nichols, Manchester.

Historically, textiles were central to Manchester’s industrial boom and the city was the prime location for weavers and cotton traders. Today, Manchester, a mecca for cutting edge, innovative digital companies, can be referred to as a 21st Century Cottonopolisa revival of its historic moniker. This follows the emergence of e-commerce and success of its global brands including the unicorn Boohoo, Missguided, Lavish Alice and Pretty Little Things.

Alongside e-commerce, Greater Manchester is leading a revival of UK textile production as a global centre of textile and fashion teaching, learning, innovation and manufacturing.

Successes to date include a return to Greater Manchester of cotton spinning at English Fine Cottons. Based in the refurbished Tower Mill in Dukinfield, the facility revived this iconic trade more than 30 years after the last cotton mills closed in the 1980s.

Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership board member Lorna Fitzsimons leads the Textiles Growth Programme, a public-private partnership to bring back textile manufacturing. Lorna said: “Greater Manchester is home to some of the most cutting edge textile technology in the world, with a growing global reputation for textile manufacture.

“As the UK prepares for Brexit, we are now working with the British Retail Consortium and its members to further develop the garment production capabilities of Greater Manchester and the UK.” 

A leader in digital innovation and with the UK’s largest technology hub outside London, Manchester is at the top of the e-commerce industry. Other thriving Manchester-born fashion etailers include Glamorous and N Brown, the umbrella company of Simple Be, JD Williams and Jacamo.

Tim Newns, chief executive officer, MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency, said: “Manchester is an excellent example of how an industrial city can reinvent itself. As the birthplace of the modern computer, Manchester has had a pivotal role as a digital media and technology centre of excellence. An e-commerce powerhouse which employs more than 9000 people in over 30 businesses, eBay reported that Greater Manchester has the largest concentration of small online businesses in the UK. The city’s collaborative spirit has enabled us to create one of Europe’s most connected business environments and reinvigorate our clothing industry.

“Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Manchester, the University of Salford and other educational establishments in the city offer specialist fashion courses which arm graduates with diverse skills such as design, buying, merchandising, technical, marketing and e-comms. The strength of Manchester’s digital infrastructure means it attracts fast-growth SMEs and Digital Fashion Futures celebrates this and our high-calibre of talent.”

The First World War played a significant role in the decline of Manchester’s cotton industry. Exporting reduced, demand for cotton slumped, mills closed and workers sought jobs elsewhere. However, between the 1960s and the 1990s, Manchester saw a textiles revival as young designers launched their own fashion brands like Stolen from Ivor, Kumar Brothers, Joe Bloggs, Henri Lloyd and Gio Gio to name but a few.

Today, the Manchester city region continues to celebrate local designers who have earned global recognition; Matthew Williamson, Henry Holland, Nadine Merabi and Nabil El-Nayal.

Shirley Hunt-Benson, producer, BBC Digital Cities Manchester, said: “Manchester is proud of its transformation from high street highness to online fashion dominator so we’re using Digital Fashion Futures as an opportunity to showcase existing talent, some of our successful companies and new designers on the verge of becoming household names. We also want to talk about how digital innovation has changed the way that consumers buy, discover and engage with fashion brands, in much the same way that audiences can now watch, download and enjoy BBC content, with the skills and technology required surprisingly similar.

Hayley Walsh, Relationship and Events Officer, Digital Innovation at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: "Manchester Metropolitan continues to attract and nurture national and international talent. Manchester itself is a great influencer, and I believe the city's ecosystem contributes to the breadth of emerging talent that we see not only at Manchester Met, but also across Greater Manchester in general. The 'We do things differently here' attitude is woven right across Manchester, and it is exciting to be showcasing examples of this attitude at the Digital Fashion Futures event."

Mark Leach, head of e-commerce, Missguided, said: “In 2015, the British Fashion Council estimated that the UK fashion industry was worth £28bn a year, contributed £50bn to the UK economy and employed nearly 900,000 people. Technology is driving a new wave of retailer and as a burgeoning e-commerce hotspot, this has enabled Manchester to lead the online fashion industry and cater for hungry fashion consumers.”

Digital Fashion Futures has been organised by the BBC, Manchester Metropolitan University and MIDAS. Panellists include Mark Leach, Head of E-commerce, Missguided; Nadine Merabi, Fashion Designer to the Stars; Leanne Bayley, Digital Content Editor, Glamour Magazine; and Laura Wrigley, Marketing Manager, One iota.

Amelia Lily will be attending and is happy to talk about her work with Jane Norman.

To read exhibitor profiles and view examples of their work visit https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1e7hnNu8Qy3Qig4gqsCLGnb-WtFndFUUW

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