Monica Dyson: What our wardrobe says about UK industry

Popular clothing chain Superdry.
Popular clothing chain Superdry.
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I was totally incensed to read that Sheffield MPs had to force a rethink on plans to replace silver-plated cutlery in the House of Commons with stainless steel tableware from Vietnam as a cost-cutting exercise. But not the slightest bit surprised. Do we ever eat anywhere that uses Sheffield cutlery?

On holiday recently in Mexico where we were the only Brits amongst nearly 2,000 hotel guests, mostly from America and Canada, we had a certain curiosity appeal. Everyone wanted to speak to us and ask questions about the UK, our politicians and especially our Royal Family, of whom Kate and William are definitely favourites. When we told one man where we were from he said: ‘Oh yes, I’ve heard of that place. Didn’t you use to make steel and cutlery?’

During the 1950s my father was passionately proud of Sheffield cutlery and its standing in the world. In fact, if we ever ate in a restaurant or café, although I must admit not all that often in those days, the first thing he would do was to look at the mark on the back of the knives and forks and if they were not made in Sheffield, he would make us all walk out!

In years to come, my father-in-law would make a similar protest against foreign manufacturing. In his case it was to do with the war, and he would never entertain the thought of buying a car or television or anything that had been manufactured either in Germany or Japan. He would be turning in his grave to see the popular Superdry men’s clothing range which advertises its Far Eastern origin on the front of its garments.

If you look through your wardrobe, you will find it difficult to find anything made in the UK. It’s no secret that cheap imports have swamped the high street over the last 20 years, but the extent to which it has grown is frightening.

Since 2000 more than 52 per cent of jobs in what is left of the British textile industry have been lost, and last year alone we imported £12.5bn more clothing than we exported.

Official figures show that around 90 per cent of what we are wearing at any time has come from abroad and what is so frightening is that it has happened almost without us realising it.

Successive governments have presided over the demise of an industry which was once, just like the cutlery and steelmaking industries, the envy of the world, and have been relocated to countries where workers put in more than 80 hours a week to earn a pittance.

There is no doubt that making garments is highly important to the people of developing countries and provides jobs for millions of people, but it is also a fact that these people are often being totally exploited, as we saw at the time of the horrendous Bangladesh clothing factory disaster a couple of years ago, and which should have given us something to think about as many of our popular High Street stores had their stock made there.

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