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Celtic Sheepskin to ramp up production

Ethical lifestyle business Celtic Sheepskin will expand its UK manufacturing plant and appoint a managing director after receiving a cash injection for a minority stake from private equity firm Piper.

Celtic Sheepskin, which manufactures 90% of its product in the UK, said for each of the past three years its ranges had sold out before Christmas because it had struggled to meet demand. A shortage of manufacturing in the UK and capacity at its factory in Newquay, where it makes sheepskin footwear and accessories, compounded its problems.

Celtic Sheepskin, which sells menswear, womenswear, kidswear, accessories and footwear, can trace its roots back to the mid-1970s but was taken over in 1990 by husband and wife Nick and Kath Whitworth. It is primarily a mail-order and etail business but it also has 50 stockists including indies Four Seasons in London’s Notting Hill and Black Sheep in Midhurst, West Sussex.

The business has seen sales grow by 20% to 25% in each of the past three years. For the year ended January 31, sales were £8m with a pre-tax profit of £1.2m.
Piper did not disclose the size or value of its stake in Celtic Sheepskin.

Kath Whitworth said: “With this investment we will be able to ready the business to cope with demand.

“The extra investment will allow us to speed up the expansion of our production unit by enabling us to employ more staff and also to purchase more machinery as required and install production software to greatly improve efficiency.

“We are searching for a managing director and also a senior merchandiser and a buying team to work with our suppliers and to help source a wider range of products made ethically from natural fibres,” she added.

The investment will also be used to expand international mail-order sales including the launch of its first international catalogue within the next year.
The catalogue will be translated into different languages.

“[Mail order] is a market we understand having previously invested in other mail-order businesses such as Boden and Gray & Osbourn,” said Piper partner Libby Gibson.

Whitworth added that growing Celtic Sheepskin’s wholesale business was not a priority as she saw growth coming largely from retail sales direct to consumers.
The average retail price for a Celtic Sheepskin jumper is about £75 to £80 while footwear is £120 to £130 for a pair of sheepskin boots.

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