County clothing manufacturers today reported a pick-up in their fortunes.

Small and medium-sized firms reported enjoying steady growth.

But they also warned that a lack of skilled labour could hamper any future opportunities to expand.

Fifteen county businesses were among 250 across the East Midlands, questioned about their experiences by Skillfast-UK.

The employer-led organisation, which represents 41,000 clothing, footwear and textile businesses, also talked to managers and directors in other parts of Britain.

And the organisation said that, in many cases, its findings were in stark contrast to the common perception of an industry in decline.

Skillfast’s findings were echoed by Fiskerton-based Tanya Knitwear, which added that it had also received training through the skills council.

This year the East Midlands Development Agency has also moved towards developing support packages for SMEs to encourage them to become more innovative and competitive.

Much of its work is jointly funded between the European Regional Development Fund, emda’s Single Programme and the private sector.

Skillfast-UK chief executive Linda Florance said the industry had suffered casualties in recent times, as larger firms shed jobs. But she said the majority of smaller firms had reported better times and some had taken on extra people over the past year.

“This suggests that the burgeoning trend towards flexible, small-quantity, fast-turnaround manufacturing is helping some to face up to strong competition from low-cost imports,” she said.

But Ms Florance said continued success is being tempered by a lack of people to fill operative vacancies, issues over success in the case of owner-managed firms and a forecast shortage of technically-skilled people.

She urged firms to tackle these issues now.

Tanya Knitwear which used to be owned by Allied Textiles, changed hands in a management buyout a year ago. It was led by managing director Erica Colver.

Today the factory employs 65 people and makes garments for department store groups and some High Street chains. Many sell its “own” labels.

Finance director Nick Shaw said: “Year-on-year things have picked up. We are certainly busier than at this time last year.

“But skills shortages are a problem. If we were trying to recruit now we would have difficulties.”

Being a rurally-based business can make things worse.

But Mr Shaw said Tanya was making progress by concentrating on offering top quality and on-time delivery.