Rather than cloth and clothing, today it is industrial and medical fabrics that are the growth areas in the British textile industry. Ironically, the ancient wool industry has outlived the cotton industry, and together British wool and worsted exports in 1998 were worth around £180 million. Even individual sectors within the woollen industry have done well in the modern era, with Harris Tweed estimated to be worth £35 million a year. The silk industry has also survived, employing some 4,000 people and producing £170 million in goods annually. The linen industry, particularly the high quality Irish linen, also continues to do well. The UK's dyeing and finishing industries also continue to trade successfully, as does the British carpet industry which employs around 18,000 people and produces some £1.3 billion in carpet sales annually. The interior textiles and textile design industry employs around 20,000 people and produced sales of around £1.7 billion in 1998.
In the North West, there are still over 1000 textile firms and 700 apparel firms, employing around 38,000 people and another 24,000 in related areas. The North West is particularly successful in technical textile markets, specialising in textiles for medical, automotive, aerospace, building and industrial markets. This is backed up by some superb educational facilities, such as Bolton Institute and UMIST, where textile technology is taught to the textile experts of tomorrow.
Out of the cotton industry's decline, came new textiles and new industries, born of the skills built up in the cotton industry's 200 year reign. Textiles today still matter to Britain and the British economy.
For further information, see the DTI report on Textiles, Interior Textiles and Carpets at www.dti.gov.uk/sectors/textiles.htm and the North West Textile Sector's key findings (cluster analysis)report at http://www.nwtexnet.co.uk.
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