Two years ago, David MacAskill wanted a change in career and so launched his own printing business. Now the former teacher is fully licensed to print military clothing and merchandise. P&P editor Melanie Attlesey finds out more.
For many teaching is a calling and a career for life, so it may come as a surprise to some that after 18 years as a special needs teacher that David wanted to change his vocation.
David started initially by printing mugs, something that he had done with his pupils in the past. One day a friend of David’s asked if he could engrave a decanter and two glasses for a birthday present, with the phrase ‘Barry’s rum glass – forever a pirate’. As David already had the equipment to do this he thought, why not and gave it a go. As is the case with many fledgling businesses, from this single request, a dozen or so more people asked for their own glass with their name engraved.
Making the move into military licensed products was quite a natural one, for where David is based in Waterlooville near to Portsmouth, there is a large naval and army community. And how David did so, should be a lesson for everyone.
During his time as a teacher, David worked in event organisation alongside a number of different characters over the years. Here he picks up the story: “One of the guys that I didn’t really get along with was a naval veteran and the reason I didn’t get on with him was that even though he had left the navy he thought he was still in the navy, so he thought he could order people around, particularly at events. ‘Move that faster, do that quicker’, that sort of thing. As a teacher, you never quite get used to being shouted at.
“One day he approached me and explained that he was working for this charity called the Veteran’s Outreach Support and asked if I could print a mug with the military tri services veterans’ logo on it. I said ‘yeah, I can try and do that’. The mug was a success and so they asked for more to be printed and then some engraved glasses, which they raffled. I then started to promote what I had done on social media, as did the charity.
“You would not believe the amount of backlash I received, with many people asking if I had a licence. One of the permissions the MOD does not authorise is the tri services badge. Licensed or not. Trying to find out what all the fuss and noise about a licence was, was a bit of a challenge.”
Do things right
David decided if he was to continue down this career path that he should do things properly and get fully licensed. From start to finish, the process of getting licensed by the Military of Defence took approximately 16 weeks and like any form of official contracts there are many things to achieve to be accepted. This includes Product Liability Insurance and Public Liability – something David would have never considered working from home. David worked with Lucy Rumming of The Willows Insurance Services, who navigated everything with ease on his behalf.
The process to apply is made as easy as possible online, once you register you have a timeline of application and can see where you are in the process. The team in the office will answer any questions and will support accordingly.
The website www.defencebrandportal.mod.uk will give anyone looking to get licensed the information required to apply. However, it is important to remember it is the MOD’s right to be selective on issuing military licences, after all that is where the standard and quality control sits.
Being licensed by the MOD means that David can now produce work for any branch of the military because he has access to the full library of military graphics that are used by regiments, squadrons and ships.
Perhaps one of David’s biggest clients is HMS Queen Elizabeth, the flag ship of the British Navy’s Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers and the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy.
Joe Robinson, former enterprise manager of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, says: “Dave has been instrumental in the development of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s enterprise store. He has consistently proven to exceed expectation when it comes to the quality of merchandise. His attention to customer satisfaction has been beyond reproach, including the lengths gone to deliver goods in a timely manner.
“The importance of a licence provider is simple; it is recognition that they have and will meet all the criteria set out by the MOD and ensures that in today’s 21st century navy that everyone gets to benefit from the welfare system.
“Wherever we are in the world David has managed and manages to get what we want and when we want. That’s important.”
As a direct result of producing work for the ship, David now works with an extensive number of military clients.
“I now project myself as an official licensee of the MOD with the products I produce and source,” says David. “I try to work with other licenced providers to keep things official. That’s my quality control and relationships.”
Clients range from serving personnel to family to veterans, even military associations and groups. For example, David officially works with the Type 42 Association, a group set up for anyone who served on that type of ship. Most famously two of that type of ship – HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry – were sunk in the Falklands War in 1982. David has produced polo shirts, glasses and even Christmas baubles for their reunions. Every year people want to remember and in 2022 one such commemoration will be 40 years since the Falklands War.
One of the more unusual items that David has been asked to procure is for underpants. The underpants were to have the ship’s crest on them, along with the nickname of the sailor, for the ship’s rugby team.
“I was told by the MOD that under no circumstances was that allowed to happen,” says David. “So, we ended up producing Speedo style swimming trunks instead with a tiny logo rather than a large one. Rugby players running around in their underpants is not the image that the MOD wants to project.”
Other items that David has produced include bone china thimbles, bespoke limited edition watches, embroidered clothing, trophies, glass and baby grows.
Despite all of the strange requests he has received since A1 Print Services was launched in January 2019, David says there hasn’t been a single request that he has not been able to facilitate. “Of course, it all depends on the price people are willing to pay for what they request,” he adds.
He estimates that there are around 100 to 120 official MOD licensees operating within the UK at present. He warns that anyone wanting to use crests or badges of the MOD should not do so without the official licence.
“It’s all too easy for anyone, anywhere to buy an embroidery machine, printer or laser engraver and put a crest on an item and get away with it,” he says. “However, this is copyright infringement and clearly breaking the law.”
Not on the same level as perhaps Disney and BMW – but the MOD does send out cease and desist warning letters and follows up the legal route of copyright infringement, he explains.
David says that the licence helps set a standard for those producing work for the MOD to follow. “If someone puts out an embroidery that is oval instead of round, that is an incorrect representation of a squadron or a battalion and it is wrong,” says David. “The person that sets up in a garage and knocks out polo shirts for £7.99 not using the correct logos, means a company like myself just can’t compete. Because they aren’t paying the tax, the insurances, VAT or the licensing fees.”
David says that despite being a licensee mistakes do happen and sometimes the wrong graphic is in the wrong place.
“Imagine using the wrong graphic, producing items and then realising that graphic was incorrect for a number of reasons and knowing that the person who is supposed to receive the item, proud of their crest, was given something that looks like it, but not quite,” he says.
This has happened to David, but because of the quality control and being able to go back to the MOD library, the mistake was rectified perfectly and the senior ranking officer was none the wiser. When asked recently how were the gifts at Christmas, his reply was ‘perfect as always, thank you’.
The next project that David is currently working towards is a mass roll out of what he calls ‘relaxed rigs’. While onboard a ship, navy personnel are expected to be in uniform at all times, even during their downtime. But David has produced a range of branded clothing that are as close as possible to uniform that has been approved for use by some captains, overseen by some senior officers.
Boldly, David has big ambitions and plans for the future which include looking to provide and help advise on clothing needs to make things even more standard and accepted throughout the services. This will be a big undertaking as there is currently 40 ships in the British Navy.
David says that although the work doesn’t come in all at once, he currently works with a fraction of those 40 ships, so this will be a huge increase in volume for A1 Print Services.
David’s ultimate goal is to become known as the one-stop shop for military licensed products and it seems he is well on the way to doing so, utilising his online presence with his website www.hmsstores.co.uk.
Since this interview David is proud to report that he has achieved the Bronze award of the Armed Forces Covenant, which in itself is another criterion the services will look towards when selecting suppliers.
For anyone looking to produce military products, David says: “Do it. Get licensed and make it official – keep the quality and maintain the standard. Our servicemen and women deserve it.”