Garment business bounces back after lockdown losses

The factory floor at garment printers and embroiderers Screenworks of Haverhill

Workers return to the factory floor at Screenworks after the business finds new products and markets - Credit: Skip50

A garment sector business has re-fashioned itself by creating new products for new markets after its orders dried up.

Screenworks of Haverhill — which was launched in 1991 — provides print and embroidery services to the garment sector, making everything from printed T-shirts and embroidered clothing for sports and music events to branded uniforms.

Screenworks has been able to brings its furloughed workforce in Haverhill back to work to make anti-

Screenworks was able to start bringing furloughed workers back to make Bumpaa anti-viral face masks and snoods - Credit: Skip50

It was making 6.5m items a year but the coronavirus crisis had a huge impact on promotional merchandise as sporting, music and corporate events were cancelled due to the crisis.

At the onset of lockdown, the firm massively pared down operations and furloughed 48 people, or just under three quarters of its workforce.

Managing director Duncan Gilmour and his management team decided they needed a massive pivot of the business to turn it around.

Screenworks owner Duncan Gilmour

Screenworks managing director Duncan Gilmour, whose father started the firm nearly 30 years ago - Credit: Skip50

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“We knew we had to think on our feet and to come up with something that would not only help to make up the lost sales but which would also support the future growth of the business and be in line with our goals, working practices and ethics,” he said.

Duncan and his team decided against the standard approach of reselling disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) and instead looked to create a new product that would support the ongoing fight against Covid-19. In June, following research and development, the firm launched the UK’s first-to-market antiviral facemasks and snoods under a new brand called Bumpaa.

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The fabric masks are made in the UK and packed at the Screenworks facility in Suffolk.

Screenworks has developed Bumpaa masks and snoods

A Bumpaa mask from Screenworks - Credit: Screenworks

They are manufactured using a technical fabric and treated with an anti-viral textile treatment called ViralOff, which is designed to protect them from harbouring viruses or bacteria. 

Since the new products launched, the company has seen weeks with sales of more than 100,000 units, and more than £1m worth of orders placed within the first three months alone.

The Bumpaa brand has continued to grow and expand its offering to include an antiviral glove range. By October, 30% of the original workforce were back at work.

But the printing and promotional product sector had become one of the forgotten victims of the pandemic, said Mr Gilmour. 

“While everyone talks about how travel and hospitality have been impacted, our industry heavily relies on the workflow from promotional events and activities. If these stop then so too does our production line," he said. 

"Even before lockdown, we noticed a knock-on effect in our supply chain as global manufacturing slowed down, but when lockdown came, our sector was facing a real struggle." 

Screenworks is a family business, set up by Mr Gilmour’s father in 1976. 

“We are so proud of what we have achieved and our growth to date,” he said. 

“Over the last few years, we have been steadily investing and working to become leaders in developing sustainable practices and processes in our sector.

"For example, we are looking at the use of new to market technical materials and have been consistently investing in equipment to support a more sustainable manufacturing process. It has been a difficult period and we have kept on as many people as we can.”

The pandemic had turned many businesses on their head but his business had come through it by being flexible, agile and reactive, he said. The human aspect of the crisis had been the hardest to manage, he added.

 “Screenworks is and has always been a business made by its people and the impact of lockdown and the pandemic has been huge,” he said.

“The pandemic has delivered some of the toughest days in my 20-year career. We have tried our best to keep the team together, communicating as frequently as we can and I hope I can look back in the years to come and say we did the best we could under very difficult circumstances.

“When lockdown started, we didn’t know what the outcome might be for the future of our business.

“Moving forward we are still facing real challenges to keep going through uncertain times. The events and promotions industries are flat and may not return to normal business until spring 2021 — meaning our day-to-day production lines are not as busy.

 “There are so many unknowns that mean we are already having to scale back before growth. However, when the events industry does return, we will be ready. We have maintained our client contacts and plan to re-hire.

“We are determined to create a strong, positive plan for the future and Covid-19 has shown myself and my team that we can adapt to anything.

"Our business model has always focused on the trade, but with the new Bumpaa brand we have seen a shift to include selling to end users, either directly, or through resellers. 

“We have learnt through the pandemic that it is crucial to be diverse in both our product offering and the markets we are selling into and this will be a big part of the strategy as we move into 2021.”

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