Textile Tales

Craig  Huntingdon (RTC North)

Created by Craig Huntingdon (RTC North), 8 months ago, [last edited 8 months ago]


It was strangely reminiscent driving onto the South West Industrial Estate in Peterlee last week to visit Urban Surfer, one of the first businesses to join the Scaleup North East Programme. I grew up in Peterlee, was Head Boy at Shotton Hall Comprehensive in Peterlee and bought my first business 20 years ago in Peterlee. But things have moved on…

20 years ago, the town was home to two large textile manufacturers, Claremont Garments and Dewhurst, between them employing 1000 people and developing an import skills base that continued over multi generations. Neither survived in a manufacturing capacity in the face of increasing competition from the Far East, both businesses closed, and those all-important skills began to be eroded.

This was my third visit to meet Karl Smith, the owner of Urban Surfer. An on-line retailer of clothing, footwear and accessories, stocking over 7,000 lines from brands such as Under Armour, Quiksilver and Converse. The business has been doubling turn over year on year and Karl has ambitious growth plans which is why he joined the programme.

The purpose of this meeting was to present the Action Plan we had been developing over the previous four weeks.

The Action Plan process involves looking at key areas that business often find challenging when scaling a business rapidly and in Urban Surfers’ case, this focussed on developing the leadership capability throughout the business so that the owner can spend more time working strategically and less time dealing with the ‘day to day’. Less reactive more concentrated.

Part of the Action Plan involved inviting Karl onto two of the workshops exclusive to the programme; ‘Scaling a Consumer Brand’ and ‘Scaling a Sales Strategy’.

The Scaleup North East programme is tagged as ‘Let’s start with a blank sheet of paper, not a blanket approach’ and this couldn’t be more evident when comparing my involvement with Northern Clothing Company in North Shields, another early entrant onto the programme and another business in the clothing sector.

The business manufactures clothing and has a skilled workforce of machinists. Whilst the garments are finished by hand using the skills once abundant in the North East many years ago, the production process is clearly cutting edge.

Garments are printed via a process known as sublimation and involves using heat and gas so the ink permanently impregnates the fabric, similar to a tattoo, and is therefore unaffected by washing or ironing. Once printed, the garment is then ‘cut’ into individual parts using a laser (no huge scissors to be seen anywhere!) before the highly skilled machinists sew them together to create the finished piece.

Over the course of our engagement on the programme, it was identified that whilst the business was scaling quickly, a lack of production capacity was preventing the business from growing quicker and eroding one of its key principles - very quick production times.

If the business allowed production times to increase from days to weeks, potential customers could source from the far east, a ghost from the past the business was keen to avoid.

Investment in new equipment and highly skilled staff would be necessary for the business to scale but this investment was far sooner than planned and would impact financially until the new capacity could be filled. W

With a strong business case and the creation of skilled jobs, Scaleup North East was able to support this investment with a capital grant towards the cost of the new equipment.

This resulted in the equipment purchase, job creation and economic impact occurring more quickly and the business being able to deal with new order enquiries having confidence that production times could be met. 

Paul Varley, Director of Northern Clothing described the programme as, ‘hugely valuable and a catalyst for economic growth and job creation with access to highly credible Scaleup Partners who have a personal track record of scaling businesses and getting things done’.

The business is now considering a second site in the region. Based on the requirement to build a workforce of skilled machinists, it’s no surprise, and very pertinent, to hear that a location has now been identified in a town where my journey and this blog started - Peterlee.


Scaleup North East is a new programme designed for companies that have the potential for significant growth by 2021. Scaleup North East works with businesses that can demonstrate both the hunger and potential to achieve high levels of growth.


Craig  Huntingdon (RTC North)

Created by Craig Huntingdon (RTC North), 8 months ago, [last edited 8 months ago]