People & Skills  

Portas pilot provides springboard for knicker factory expansion

A manufacturing company featured on a television show has witnessed huge growth for its product and is now having to boost its workforce
 From left, David Moore, Tim Fox and Tim Iles

A  manufacturing company featured on a television show has witnessed huge growth for its product and is now having to boost its workforce

The North West manufacturer that shot to international fame after it was featured in the Mary Portas series The Bottom Line is aiming to quadruple volumes and take on 30 new staff in 2013.

Headen & Quarmby, which was formed in 1935 by the grandparents of the current Managing Director David Moore, is expecting to manufacture more than 400,000 units of its Kinky Knickers range next year after securing contacts with some of the high street’s leading retailers.

Backed by the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), the company has enjoyed massive interest in its low rise women briefs that are made exclusively from Nottingham lace by local apprentices.

Liberty UK was the first retail name to back the British made product, with Asos, Boots, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Selfridges and Marks & Spencer also now stocking the brand.

Moore said: “The initial contract with Channel 4 and Endemol was to manufacture 5,000 units and to achieve this we took eight local unemployed people and trained them to NVQ standards in Key Training & Learning.

“Since the media exposure, the country’s retailers have really got behind Kinky Knickers and, by the end of this current season, we’ll have sent 85,000 units out of the Middleton factory and into stores all over the UK, many already selling out.”

He continued: “We’ve introduced five new colours to the range and are currently working with Mary Portas and her team to design some exciting new products for the Spring/Summer 13 offer.”


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The Manufacturing Advisory Service has been working with Headen & Quarmby for nearly five years, introducing its associate Tim Iles of TIML to provide ongoing management training and help with strategy development to withstand competition from low cost competitors.

Following the company’s involvement in the Bottom Line, TIML provided the firm with hands-on support in introducing new processes, improved workflow, training for machinists and incentive schemes to encourage even greater performance to cope with renewed demand.

This has ensured it can ramp up production quickly and importantly has played a crucial role in reducing the time it takes to complete each garment from 12 minutes to eight and five minutes depending on the exact style of the product.

David, who has been with the company for 25 years, continued: “The assistance we have received has been crucial, especially when you consider how quickly Kinky Knickers has grown.

“We now have a solid manufacturing base from which to expand at pace and meet demand from retailers. Over time, I’d like to see us bring back even more production to the UK.”

Kinky Knickers now makes up approximately 25 percent of the Headen & Quarmby business, with the remainder focused on contract manufacturing nightwear and lingerie.

With the exception of the TV-inspired brand, the rest of the product range is designed at its Middleton headquarters and produced in low cost countries, a decision the company reluctantly made in mid 2003 to remain competitive.

Tim Fox, Manufacturing Advisor at MAS, said: “The TV programme has created a new opportunity for Headen & Quarmby, but there are not many companies who could have seized it with such enthusiasm and turned it into such a success story.”

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