Walsden Gets Contract with Concord to Print High-End Designs

September 5, 1999

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Lancashire, UK -- Like so many of his compatriots, Jim Kidd, managing director of Walsden Printing Co., has found the past twelve months hard going, affected as they have been by unstable world markets and the high level of sterling. But unlike so many of his compatriots, Kidd has been able to land some impressive contracts.
"Sure, it's been tough," he said, "but the trend towards more exciting designs and colors in the furnishing industry and a move away from plains and color wovens is opening up new opportunities for us."
One such opportunity, in a contract finalized at Heimtextil between Kidd and Roger Burnim, vice president of Concord Fabric's Home Furnishing Division, has Walsden printing fabrics for Concord Fabrics, Inc. of New York using designs provided by the American company.
Under the guidance of Concord's design director, Sharon Kessler, a series of designs described by the English as "somewhat classical but definitely at the upper end of the market," were soon on their way to be color separated and to have screens engraved by Walsden's sister company Panhuizen. Walsden takes the Concord original designs and following color separation and screen engraving by Panhuizen, produces the final printed fabric in 54-inch wide, 100 percent cotton satin and an 80/20 cotton / linen union fabric. The materials are used in home interiors for drapes and furniture upholstery.
"It was just what we had hoped for," said Kidd. "We had opened our first door to one of the world's largest trading areas."
Kidd is sure that the orders for these products were won on Walsden's reputation for quality. Similar operations are carried out for such well known companies as Prestigious, Rectella, Washington and the Headlam Group. Steady growth at Walsden has been maintained with current turnover in the region of £15M gained from the production of printed furnishing fabrics and through commissioned sales for other international companies.
It is via such companies that fabrics printed by Walsden reach all parts of the world. Kidd estimates that 5 percent of his company's production is eventually exported, although direct exports currently account for only 10 percent of production.
The ability to perform commission work, ably supported by the Leeds Group -- of which Walsden is a part -- and Walsden's reputation for high quality, has added strength to the company's production capabilities.
Walsden became a division of the broad-based international textile organization the Leeds Group PLC in 1986. In 1994 the Leeds Group purchased one of the world's leading companies in the engraving industry when it bought Panhuizen, a Dutch firm known for its precision and tonal work. Using digital technology Panhuizen, as a stand-alone profit center within the group, supplies many of the printers in Europe. This investment gives them a definite edge over competitors.
Since the purchase of Panhuizen there has been annual growth in Walsden's production to a current figure of 350,000 meters of high quality fabric each week. This represents an increase in production of around 75 percent over ten years.
Walsden has also learned the value of flexibility during 65 years in the industry. Competition drove the company to diversify into printing when since 1935 it had been a family-run business specializing in bleaching and dyeing. The addition of copper roller printing to the early operations came in 1950 with output geared entirely to the apparel industry. However, with the emphasis in the clothing trade on casual and sportswear and the effect of low priced Far East imports, there was a decline in the demand for U.K. prints. As a result there was a structured change of direction from supplying the apparel industry to designing and printing fabrics for furnishings and upholstery.
Its flexibility has paid off. The two Walsden sites which now comprise this company's U.K. operation, both in the traditional textile areas of Lancashire, England, and together employing some 170 people, have different functions. The Gale Mill site houses the company's own design studio as well as fabric preparation processes and engraving. When preparation is complete, the fabric is shipped to the Ramsden Wood site which houses modern printing equipment. In 1995 the company invested more than U.S. $8 million installing machines capable of producing 320cm, 16-color fabrics. These complement the five 185cm machines capable of producing 20-color designs and provide total width flexibility for the bedlinen and furnishing markets.
Kidd, who is also a Board Director of the Leeds Group with responsibilities throughout the U.K. printing operation, believes Walsden's flexibility, reputation and capabilities, are reason to be optimistic about the coming twelve months.
"It's still not going to be easy but I detect an increasing demand for more exciting print designs, and Walsden is strategically poised to service that demand."


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