MORE than 100 North-East jobs are being created as a textile firm brings clothes making back to its former heartland.

The AMA Group is opening a factory in Peterlee, east Durham, producing clothing for high street retailers, supermarkets and designer brands.

Bosses say it will make dresses, skirts, swimwear, jumpers and blouses, and production is expected to start in April.

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The company will take on about 50 workers this year and more than 50 next year, with the factory including a consultancy service to design and develop garments.

The move is a major boost to County Durham's employment landscape, which once boasted a plethora of clothing makers, including Astraka, Sara Lee Courtaulds, Dewhirst and Ramar.

The venture is being launched by former Claremont Garments directors Julie and David Price and Paul Watts, along with two other directors.

Ms Price said: “I genuinely believe we can lead the revival of the industry, not just in east Durham but the North-East as a whole.

“The clothing manufacturing sector was at the heart of North-East industry for many years and was particularly prominent in east Durham.

“But when retailers started looking overseas to make their products in a bid to reduce costs, the sector sadly declined and eventually became virtually none existent.

“However, in recent times we have become much more conscious of where our clothing comes from, and that, coupled with the inflexibility of sourcing products from overseas, prompted retailers to look at their suppliers.

“These factors were the driving force behind us thinking seriously about bringing manufacturing back to the area.”

Business Durham, Durham County Council's business division, has supported the firm's plans and helped its search for premises.

Joanne Urquhart-Arnold, business development area manager, added: “Not only will this see the creation of more than 100 jobs and support young people into secure employment, it will also see the revival of an industry that was once one of the area's most important employers.”

WHO WERE COUNTY DURHAM'S CLOTHING MAKERS?

  • Shildon-based Astraka was known throughout the Eastern Bloc for its luxurious fur coats. The company, which started as Alfred Morris Furs, in London, in 1898, relocated to County Durham in the mid-1940s and within five years employed 200 people at its Blyvoor Works.
  • Astraka faux fur was available in Harrods and Selfridges, and supermodel Twiggy stepped out in a Shildon-made garment.
  • However, at the start of the 1980s, Astraka began to slim down its workforce, with overseas competition hitting the County Durham textile industry as eastern Europeans discovered they could make fake fur cheaper.
  • Astraka slipped into receivership in February 1988, jeopardising 270 jobs, and closed in May 1988.

 

  • In 2003, textile firm Sara Lee Courtaulds, which had factories in Peterlee and Bishop Auckland, revealed 350 staff were affected in plans to close plants. The company blamed the decision on its failure to secure a new contract on Marks and Spencer's Autograph range

 

  • Waxed jacket maker J Barbour and Sons closed its plant in Crook in 2003, where 87 people were employed

 

  • In 2002, 400 jobs were lost when Dewhirst closed its Sunderland factory. The firm had already axed 700 jobs when it shut its three operations in Peterlee in 2000

 

  • Zip factory Coats Optilon cut 300 jobs in Peterlee and more than 100 posts at Coats Paint, in Darlington, in 2000

 

  • Claremont Garments, in Stanley, closed with the loss of 190 jobs in 1998

 

  • In 1991, more than 450 jobs were lost when Ramar, in Crook, went into receivership