Portas show catapults sales of ‘Kinky Knickers’ at Headen & Quarmby

Posted on 12 Nov 2012
Sales of 'Kinky Knickers' have brought manufacturing at Headen & Quarmby back to the UK

North West manufacturer Headen & Quarmby is aiming to quadruple volumes and take on 30 new staff in 2013 after it was featured in the Mary Portas series ‘The Bottom Line’.

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 from Nottingham lace by local apprentices.

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

David Moore explained: “The initial contract with Channel 4 and Endemol was to manufacture 5,000 units and to achieve this we took on 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 [near Manchester] and into stores all over the UK, with many already selling out.”

Headen & Quarmby have 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 and Summer season in 2013.

‘Kinky Knickers’ now makes up 25% of the Headen & Quarmby’s sales, with the remainder focused on contract manufacturing nightwear and lingerie.

The Manufacturing Advisory Service has been working with Headen & Quarmby for nearly five years to support it in withstanding competition from low cost competitors.

Following the company’s involvement in the ‘Bottom Line’, the firm has introduced new processes, improved workflow, trained machinists and implemented an incentive scheme to encourage even greater performance to cope with renewed demand.

This has supported the company in ramping up production and reducing the time it takes to complete each garment from an average of 12 minutes to seven minutes.

“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,” said Mr Moore.

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

“When we took the difficult decision to put some of our machines into storage, I genuinely never thought we’d be able to produce garments competitively in this country again,” said Moore.

“With the support of Mary Portas, Endemol and UK consumers we’ve completely reversed this theory and I know that my grandparents will be very pleased at what we’ve achieved.”

Tim Fox, manufacturing advisor at MAS, concluded that the company’s design flair has enabled it to create a product that people want to buy and subsequently created 32 new jobs in the process.