A new nationally accredited apprenticeship has been launched by the British footwear industry, designed by employers to be flexible, to offer high quality entry level training and experience to those interested in joining a highly skilled industry. The scheme aims to better grasp the economic opportunities which future UK shoe manufacturing industries offer to the country.
“The new apprenticeship is a great opportunity to train a new generation of shoemakers to help recreate a UK shoemaking industry,” said Robert Perkins, British Footwear Association board member and CEO at Hotter.
The footwear manufacturing sector in the UK has been declining since the 1970s. Currently, there are around 15 decent sized factories remaining in the country that managed to survive due to long serving skilled staff that will most probably retire in the next 10 to 15 years. The exceptions are four progressive brands that have invested in advanced facilities, modern machinery and team-based manufacturing – New Balance in Cumbria, Gina Shoes in London, Dr Martens in Northamptonshire and Hotter in Lancashire.
“At Hotter”, Perkins explained, “we have invested heavily to create the UK’s biggest and most efficient shoe factory that makes 35% of all the shoes still made in the UK.” “Where processes would have been done individually, they have been blended together, with the use of semi- and fully automated robotics. This means, our labour costs are relatively low, but our capital investment is much higher than in an average shoe business.”
An engineering approach is taken at Hotter when designing and manufacturing shoes. The company uses data to control the manufacturing processes, tracks work in the factory and analyses stock quantities of products in its stores.
With the help of data and automated manufacturing processes, Hotter is also in a good position to customise its products. “We do special editions. For instance, when Megan Markle and Prince Harry announced their engagement, we quickly designed and manufactured a range of shoes for the royal wedding,” said Perkins.
Hotter has always been manufacturing in the UK, with only 10% of the shoes it sells having been bought from its long-term partner factory in Vietnam.