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Hawick Knitwear plots global growth following BBC show

Scottish cashmere brand and manufacturer Hawick Knitwear is ramping up its international expansion plans after taking part in Lord Digby Jones’ new BBC2 show.

The documentary, Digby Jones the New Troubleshooter, will air on BBC2 on April 17, following the former minister for trade, and director general of the CBI, as he works with Hawick Knitwear to build its export business.

Managing director Benny Hartop told Drapers the show had given management an “impartial opinion” on the business.

“When you’re involved in the day to day it can be hard to see the wood for the trees at times,” he added. “It was very reassuring that all the points Digby raised we had already discussed in-house, but it was a matter of changing priorities in order to make the most of the export market.”

Jones advised Hawick Knitwear to concentrate primarily on southeast Asia, where British heritage products are in demand.  

Paul Alger, director of international business development at the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT), was brought into the business by Jones to steer Hawick Knitwear towards the “lucrative” Japanese market.

Since completing the filming, Hawick Knitwear has taken on Japanese agent Will Waddell and secured an account in high-end department store Isetan Mitsukoshi for autumn 14. It is also launching in South Korean department store Hyundai next season.

Hartop has also set up “promising” meetings with Chinese buyers in an effort to crack the market that “dwarfs anything else through its size and scale”.

Alger said: “A premium and heritage brand such as Hawick Knitwear will appeal to contemporary Japanese retailers. Authenticity and quality product is key in Japan and UK companies will stand to do well, particularly where accessories are concerned. Japanese buyers and consumers pay their bills and appreciate quality. If UK businesses can produce quality product at the right price, they have the ability to do a lot more than they are presently in terms of export.”

Hawick Knitwear, which also makes products for third-party labels such as Brooks Brothers and Marks & Spencer’s ‘Made in Britain’ range, is also hoping to break into the US market with its own label in the next three years.

The company currently has a turnover of £9m, of which £2m is generated from own-label product.

It intends to double this to £4m by 2017 through the Asian and US expansion, growing international revenues from 25% to 50% of overall sales. 

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