Hospitality and healthcare linen providers have their work cut out dealing with challenges thrown up by the energy crisis, lack of skilled labour in the UK and other global factors affecting linen supply. But they are rising to the challenges. We catch up with leading UK linen businesses to find out what they are doing to help their customers keep ahead of the curve. We also speak to hospital linen managers and suppliers who summarise the situation for the NHS.


LCN caught up with linen supplier to top end hotels Tradelinens’ managing director Catherine Morris, who laid out the prospects for 2023 as she sees them.

“The impact of the energy price hike continues to mount pressure on the entire hospitality supply chain. From the cost of raw materials and production through to hospitality outlets and commercial laundries and the end customer. If the government support ends in March for much of hospitality, this will create even more challenging conditions for the sector which employs thousands of people. Commercial laundries are the unsung heroes of everything from luxury hotels and restaurants to essential services such as hospitals, with the TSA recently quoting that 90% of hospitals would be forced to close without the vital services provided by the laundries.

“The challenging conditions will, however, create opportunities to innovate in production methods, accelerate new product development and we are already seeing new enquiries for product innovation in terms of fabrics and blends. We’re also seeing an increase in conscious choices with sustainability rising up the customer and consumer agenda in spite of the economic challenges.

“With sustainable business practices being at the heart of how Tradelinens do business, this is creating some exciting opportunities for the year to come. With our long standing relationships with innovative and socially conscious mills, this re-emphasis by customer and consumer is something we’re well positioned to deliver.

“Authentic experiences which offer exceptional luxury and effortless attention to every single detail are how our luxury clients continue to delight their guests. Investment in products which reflect their brand, from personalised details such as bespoke embroidery and design to social conscious fabrics.

“As Tradelinens is fortunate to work with some of the world’s most iconic brands, the very nature of our business is to be continually innovating and offering product ranges which enhance the guest experience with a firm eye on commercial longevity and exceptional attention to detail. This I’m sure will remain very much at the forefront of the business in 2023 and beyond.

“We’re working on a number of exciting new openings and renovation projects for this year and we’re confident that each of these properties will be a uniquely exciting addition to the UK hospitality offering.


LCN asked NHS supplier members and laundry managers of the Society of Hospital Linen Services and Laundry Managers (SHLMS), for comment. They talk about their individual experiences.

“The ­first challenge is that people in the UK think we are living in a post-Covid world – we aren’t. We buy from and supply to a global market, which is still suffering with Covid. There are rises in UK Covid cases locally and a massive rise in China, where almost all factories were forced to close for 7-10 days late December into early January because all of their workers were sick. There are many deaths there as a result, typically unreported in the media, but from conversations with our factories this is happening.”

“The time it takes to get a container from port of origin to UK port is back to pre-Covid lead times in Pakistan and surrounding areas. China is almost back to normal lead times. Now we wait to see what happens in China during Chinese New Year and afterwards.”

“The unprecedented demand we saw through Covid 19 impacted staff structures and working patterns, for example, extra shifts and the large return of clinicians to the workplace. All these changes meant increased requirement for uniforms and protective clothing.

“Although overall demand has settled down, suppliers such as ourselves, have ­nanced additional stocking of key products in our UK warehouse to support any future peaks in purchasing. Working closely with the NHS since Covid, subtle indications in the demographic of clothing, show more healthcare professionals prefer scrubs for daily use. Predominantly polyester/cotton they are robust, comfortable and a tried and tested product for the NHS. Traditional nurses’ tunics and dresses are still hugely popular, are synonymous with the NHS and easily distinguishable for patients.”

“From a linen textiles supplier’s perspective, for example, NHS stalwarts such as Interweave, James Walker, MIP ‘and the like,’ delivery shipments and consistent supply to larger laundry suppliers that supply healthcare Trusts are starting to get back to some sort of normality. As everyone knows, everything changed rapidly, and not for the better, due to Brexit, Covid19 and its successive disruptive waves, ­nally topped off, sadly, with the war in Ukraine.”


Problems started in the subsequent weeks following the vote to leave the EU in June 2016, when the value of £GBP fell dramatically against $US. This caused prices of imported goods arriving at UK ports to increase accordingly. Transportation was disrupted after we of­cially left the EU and this meant the situation at UK ports and docks became more problematic with different paper work requirements and changes to the customs system. This also led to problems in the transportation of containers from UK ports to their warehouses which was predominately caused by a shortage of HGV drivers.

Thankfully, the main textile suppliers we use have considerably less risk because they don’t import many goods for Trusts, or larger laundry suppliers, from inside the EU.”

Covid19 and the war in Ukraine “In most recent times prices have gone up drastically due to Covid19, the Ukraine war and the steep increase in in‑ation. The TSA recently reported that the Laundry Costs Index (LCI) in‑ator rate has been running at nearly double the rate to that of the RPIX amount. This has resulted in higher prices throughout the industry with many suppliers having to put up their prices just to survive the dif­ficult times.

“As a purchaser of healthcare textiles with a limited budget this has meant we have been forced into reducing our overall requirements accordingly, which at times has had a negative impact on the supply of textiles used in patient care. In the early days of impact from the two scenarios, it was harder to get the same goods to us in the same timeframes prior to the pandemic. Suppliers often say container deliveries and the movement of freight containers from overseas suppliers into the UK are problematic. The two main problems which cause delay are shipping lines which are changing sailing routes due to rising costs, causing extended times at sea, and UK ports which often suffer congestion resulting in delays off-loading containers, making turnaround time longer getting to their UK warehouses.

Again, thanks to our dedicated textile supplier colleagues who have come up with positive solutions by counteracting the currency ‑uctuation by establishing stock re-ordering programmes which increase their current stock levels to reach record levels. This allows them to protect their customers from potential price increases due to factors caused by unforeseen factors for longer periods. They have contracted work to several different freight forwarders so they have more options in regard to customs clearance and transportation to their warehouses.

With in‑ation and prices changing regularly, it’s impossible to predict the next few weeks let alone more long-term prices.”

Healthcare uniforms

“In regards to healthcare uniforms this seems to be an rising ‘pressure pot’ experience. I would say that prior to factors mentioned above things haven’t really improved too much. As a purchaser on behalf of a large NHS Trust I can say from personal experience that regular supply has never been that consistent, even before the pandemic. The situation the Trust often ­nds itself in these days means that nursing recruits cannot be issued with their uniforms immediately on induction, or at least not all of them anyway. Demand is outstripping supply due to the nursing directorate constantly trying to recruit new staff, often bringing in nurses and doctors from oversees at very short notice. This is due, in particular, to problems in retention of trained staff who are regularly leaving the industry for a number of different factors.

“During the pandemic uniform suppliers reported that many of their oversees manufacturing plants reduced their workforce space due to Covid restrictions. I believe that many of these restrictions still exist, meaning supply is often slower than before and for some made to order (MTO) items, lead-times can now be up to six months to reach the end user. This has resulted in rising costs and other ongoing issues around supply disruption, delays and in worst case scenarios some larger uniform suppliers all of a sudden having to discontinue some of their previous products. I wonder if this is a subconscious planned reduction in styles and colourways being discontinued in preparation for the new standard uniform policy expected to be introduced in the near future. As we prepare for this, we are going to have to be careful on how we phase out any older style uniforms.”

“To be honest the procurement of new linen is pretty straightforward with us. We have a really good relationship with our suppliers and utilise a framework to be able to purchase linen without any issues. Lead times have increased but this is understandable in the current climate. If anything it has meant our suppliers work harder with us to ensure deliveries and actively let us know when is best to order.”

“After the global supply chain problems in 2022, the situation certainly seems more settled…for now at least. UK stocks are healthy compared to the last six months of 2022 and recently there has been a reduction in costs for new production.

“However, the reduced costs are still higher than12 months ago. Existing stocks in the UK for immediate despatch were purchased when prices were higher. Plus, when you factor in the extended lead-time for overseas production, recent cost reductions will take some time to percolate through.

“While the above paints a rather optimistic picture, if the past three years have taught us anything, it is be to ‘expect the unexpected’. With that, and bearing in mind the situation with Covid in China and the war in Ukraine, we remain alert to any future turbulence. “

“As a supplier, post-Covid we have seen improvements in container ­ow, which was a massive headache. However challenges remain: demand for product is far more unpredictable than it was, also increases in costs relating to exchange rates, raw materials and so on continue to make life difficult dur to their volatility, with the fear of ‘what next?’ always in mind.”


Raj Ruia, managing director of hospitality supplier Richard Haworth, tells LCN: “The challenges we faced last year have somewhat changed. For example, this time last year container spaces were in short supply, the lifting of lockdowns led to sky rocketing shipping costs. Thankfully, container prices have come down signi­cantly and have stabilised.

“There are, however, still challenges, in that there appears to be less shipping capacity since many of the vessels that operated pre- Covid have ceased trading.

“We have seen considerable volatility in pricing from the mills, relating particularly to demand patterns seen from the large retailers in the USA.

“Furthermore, the cotton price hikes we saw last year have eased off, although ‑ooding in Pakistan and droughts in the US have presented their own problems.

“The biggest challenge I feel we will face relates to sustainability agenda, speci­cally the issue of human rights in China. Richard Haworth has actively moved its sourcing away from China to other countries and indeed into the EU. We have in fact been able to onshore some production to our own hemming unit in UK. We wait to see what might or might not happen in Taiwan as this may have a devastating effect on supply chains out of China.”

Meanwhile, Richard Hawarth took a step at its UK home base towards tackling the skills shortage at a recent event backed by the local MP. The company hosted a free event at its Kearsley Mill headquarters to teach people how to sew. Raj Ruia said: “It is a sad reality that we no longer have individuals entering the workplace with the practical skills we require, such as cutting, sewing and embroidery – all of which are fundamental to our production process. In a world where so many manufacturing lines are turning to AI and robots, and the education system is less focused on equipping students with handson skills, we still very much need and want to employ people. It is due to our skilled seamstresses that our products are of the highest quality and our talented team ensures that we continue to surpass the industry standard.”

However, with some of its machinists having been employed for more than 40 years, Richard Haworth is now looking to recruit and train up the next generation to join its manufacturing team, and work across its sewing and hemming stations.

Ruia continues: “Historically, Kearsley has been a mill town and attracted local workers, but since so many more people now commute, we hope to attract talent from across the Greater Manchester area. Not only can we offer secure and stable employment, but practical training that will teach employees the skills to plug this very real shortfall.”