Northern Flags reshores and invests

Jez Abbott
Friday, January 29, 2016

Northern Flags has re-established its UK print and finishing operation in Leeds after what it calls an “eight-year hiatus” and celebrated its return home with the installation of a 2.5m-wide printer.

The UK arm of Europe’s largest printed fabrics supplier Faber Vlaggen had previously moved all of its production to the group’s digital and screen facilities in Poland and Thailand to take advantage of lower production costs.

Now it is bringing it back to Yorkshire in a £500,000 investment.

Following recent growth and the need for faster turnaround times Northern Flags opted to invest around £200,000 in a local wide-format facility with climate control and a 2.5m D-Gen Black printer.

Managing director Iain Clasper-Cotte said: “Most orders require a 24- or 48-hour turnaround, which we could do in Poland, but it's cheaper here because we don't pay air freight.”

He added: “We used to be an 'olde-worlde' flag company producing short-run screen-printed flags with sewing and finishing done here in Leeds until eight years ago.

“As the market moved more towards digital it became more cost beneficial to move work to our digital set-up in Poland with patented sublimation technology.

“Our sewing machines and finishing kit in Leeds gathered dust. We have now replaced single-stitch for double-stitch sewing machines, and took delivery earlier this month of the D-Gen printer.”

The machine was chosen for its ability to offer “an agile, quick-turnaround UK operation” and deliver excellent show-through for core flag products and good quality on display fabrics, he added.

Clasper-Cotte said the machine would produce concert backdrops, barrier jackets and materials for clients in retail, events and forecourt advertising.

The new facility and D-Gen Black investment marked the first phase of work. The arrival next month of a Durst Omega for retail boards and Correx will follow and then a latex machine for PVC, banners and wallpaper, taking the total investment to around £500,000.

The D-Gen Black in Leeds runs at 68sqm/hr and the Durst in Poland runs at 900sqm/hr.

Clasper-Cotte did not reveal the company's turnover but said the 50-staff business aimed to double it in the next two to three years.

“Having spent two years planning the launch of the print facility, we were delighted to find a manufacturer that understood our needs.

“RA Smart [D-Gen reseller] of Macclesfield and D-Gen worked alongside us and developed exclusive profiles for our kit to enable us to match the quality from our group digital facility in Poland.

“My highlight of the first launch phase was that we were able to welcome back two of our original seamstresses as part of our sewing team.”

Northern Flags has also established a new pick-and-pack centre to hold large stocks of custom POS and hardware for clients.

The firm has been part of one of Europe’s largest printed fabrics suppliers, Faber Vlaggen, for 30 years. The group has more than 700 people in production hubs in Thailand, Poland, France and the Netherlands.

The business specialises in ‘just-in-time’ production for multinational brands, some of Europe's largest print management companies, advertising agencies, sports and event management firms.

Northern Flags is the latest company in the sector to “reshore” in the UK. Late last year Gala Graphics, which prints textiles for sister company Gala Tents, spent over £1m on dye-sub technology to bring work back from China to Yorkshire.

“I think there are several reasons for the desire to return to the UK,” said Clasper-Cotte. “One of them is turnaround times: this is a very dynamic market and customers want everything quicker.

“Quality control is also important; I've heard a few horror stories from other companies, but we can do all our own Pantone checks and don't have to go to China.

“Also fuel costs and exchange rates have changed substantially over the last six years, with fuel costs in particular shooting up.

“Many people are also finding it hard sometimes to deal with negotiating, sample specification and the importing process. The latter can be a nightmare.”

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