Scottish textile manufacturers will have to work together to a far greater degree as the global industry seeks to clean up it environmental act, according to a leading executive within the sector.

Iain Laird, chief executive of cashmere weaver Alex Begg and chairman of the UK Fashion and Textiles (UKFT) trade body for Scotland, said the industry is making significant strides but will have to do much more to effect change. This includes everything from land and animal management to the reduction of water, chemical and energy consumption.

"Probably in the past, people and organisations felt they would drive their own agenda, and I think in Scotland we have now got a greater recognition that we need to collaborate a bit more both within the sector, and with partners outside the sector," Mr Laird said.

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His comments come in the wake of a visit by the Fashion Council Germany which included designers, buyers and retailers such as online platform Zalando.com, a German equivalent of Net-a-Porter. Supported by Scottish Development International (SDI), the two-day event at Dumfries House in East Ayrshire focused on sustainable craftsmanship and circular fashion.

Industry figures from February 2021 show there are more than 550 textile firms in Scotland employing approximately 9,000 people. These companies collectively contribute roughly £305 million in GVA (gross value added) to the Scottish economy, and account for £360m of exports.

HeraldScotland: Andrew Rough, chief executive of Advanced Clothing SolutionsAndrew Rough, chief executive of Advanced Clothing Solutions (Image: ACS)

However, Mr Laird said circular fashion is still a "very small" part of the Scottish industry. While companies such as those taking part in last week's conference – among them Advanced Clothing Solutions in Lanarkshire, Edinburgh-based Tartan Blanket Co, and Scotland's first BCorp textile company, Prickly Thistle – are good examples of those "embracing change", further collaboration is required.

"The reality is that as an industry we look at the fact that as a sector globally, textiles has contributed adversely to the planet," Mr Laird said. "So for the Scottish textiles industry it is about saying how can we start being a better force for doing things differently and targeting some different approaches."

He added: "We recognise that we need to be doing more to drive change and that Scottish textiles don't exist to be the cheapest in the world.

"It can exist and does exist as being the best at what we do. We've got a strong heritage in Scotland, but the future is thinking about the positive impact that we can have."

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With manufacturing sites in Ayr and Hawick, Alex Begg designs and manufactures cashmere, silk and wool blend accessories for other major brands and its own Begg x Co label. A member of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance, Alex Begg has eliminated production waste from its operations.

"Something like filling a mattress is a better use than making waste, but making it into new yarns for new production is even better," he said.

"So embracing circularity and thinking in terms of design processes and manufacturing processes is certainly starting to be established, but driving the supply chains to make something completely new is tricky."

The visit by Fashion Council Germany was led by its chief executive Scott Lipinksi, a member of the GlobalScot network. He was supported by SDI team leader Laura Suarez.

"There is strong alignment with Scotland’s trade, investment focus, and values around fair work, net zero and sustainable and inclusive economic growth," Ms Suarez noted.