It all started with the Spice Girls… Intrigued? P&P editor Melanie Attlesey speaks with the team at Essential Embroidery Design & Print to find out how the business grew from one embroidery machine to one that is now a leader in garment decoration.
George Georgiou always credits the end of his career in belt manufacture to the popularity of the Spice Girls.
Quite an odd statement to make, but when you realise the influence that the Spice Girls had on the fashion industry with their cropped tops and low waisted trousers you can see why George’s belt manufacturing business may have fallen by the wayside.
This was back in the late 1990s. By 1998 George had to make a decision to take his career in a different direction to support his young family. It was a tough choice between opening up a McDonald’s franchise or purchasing an embroidery business.
Thankfully, to the benefit of the garment decoration industry George chose the latter option and founded Essential Embroidery Design along with his wife Nicki, who although now only works part time in the business, was very much a driving force in the beginning. Now known as Essential Embroidery Design & Print or simply Essential, the business began with just one six-head embroidery machine and operated out of a 1,000sq ft unit in Luton, which is tiny in comparison to the 19,000sq ft one now based in Dunstable, but it did the job.
Steadily but surely
Over the years Essential has grown steadily, but surely, with George acquiring working relationships with many of the world’s biggest blue chip organisations and creative agencies along the way.
In 2005 after many years of getting to grips with, and growing, the embroidery side of the business, George took his first step into digital printing with the purchase of the UK’s first Kornit 930. “This purchase led the way to us becoming a full garment decorator as opposed to just an embroiderer,” explains George.
George’s son Louis, who works as the company’s marketing manager, explains that this purchase opened many doors for Essential and paved the way for the company to purchase its first automatic screen print machine a few years later. Branching out in different areas allowed Essential to offer its customers a multitude of garment decoration techniques and branding solutions.
It’s George’s drive to be the first in the UK to try out new technologies and techniques, which also led Essential to becoming one of the first in the UK to offer laser engraving for clothing and to develop a garment embossing machine.
Garment embossing is done by firstly having a metal stencil made of the logo to be embossed onto the garment. Both a male and female version of the logo are made, which the fabric is then pressed between. A combination of heat and pressure transform the fabric so that the logo is permanently embossed into the fabric. The process works best on polyester garments where the embossed logo will last forever. On cotton garments the fabric is treated with a hardening agent which will then hold the embossed logo in place forever. This machine is bespoke to Essential and was developed in partnership with a machine supplier in China.
It’s during the last three or four years that growth has really accelerated for Essential. In 2016 Dorian Tranter was employed as the company’s sales and marketing director and a year later Tony Palmer joined as the company’s production director. Having a solid management team in place has allowed Essential to enjoy year on year growth of 30% in recent years. “This has really helped to catapult the business forward,” explains Dorian. “Tony and I know our areas of expertise well. We have focused our core values on our core clients.”
The addition of Dorian and Tony to the business has allowed George to free up his time a little bit to focus on how best to expand and grow the business for the benefit of staff and customers alike.
Earlier this year, Essential added a 1,500sq ft extension to its premises, bringing the total square footage up to 19,000sq ft. This extension houses increased office space, two new showrooms, a new boardroom and a bigger canteen, which is very popular among the 58 staff members.
The addition of the showrooms and office space has proved to be a big bonus for Essential. Dorian and Louis believe that Essential is the only garment decorator in the UK that actively works alongside their suppliers to educate the consumer. Suppliers are given access to the showroom to come in, hot desk and educate and train Essential’s sales team. The suppliers then head out on the road with Essential’s sales team to train and educate Essential’s customers.
Dorian explains: “Working this way allows the brands to influence our customers and get time to talk to them about their products. I think this is how we have seen our growth. This was my biggest want, when it came to new ways of working.
“Selfishly, this concept was established because they gave me a catalogue on day one to look through and I was like ‘what do you want me to do with that’. It’s good as a doorstop and that’s it. There are 17 pages of polo shirts and what I wanted to do was let the brands explain what’s great about them to my customers. So, I’ll be honest it was borne from laziness! You have to touch, feel, look at the colours. It makes such a difference.”
String to the bow
Another string to Essential’s bow was the addition of Essential Workwear – a new division in the Essential family. “Historically we have been very much focused on the promo market,” explains Louis. “We see workwear as a major area of growth for us.”
Essential has the right people and practices in place to guide workwear customers through the entire garment decoration process from inception to finished garment. “We see workwear as something that can help to build a company’s brand, which is what we have been doing for the past 20 years – building brands with clothes. We want to bring that side of what we do to the workwear market,” adds Louis.
The division has its own dedicated team, including a national sales manager in the shape of Dean Walker. He’s based out on the road, speaking to potential and existing customers up and down the country.
Another focus for Essential is the development of five brand pillars; education, innovation, passion, honesty and sustainability. Having these pillars in place lets the staff and customers know what to expect from Essential.
In 2019, Essential will be directing focus towards building its sustainability and eco credentials. “Being sustainable is not just a business decision any more. I believe we have to conduct our business in this way for the future of the planet,” says Louis.
To achieve this goal in becoming more sustainable, Essential is doing several things, including; making the switch to water-based inks, introducing organic clothing options, reducing water consumption by 30% during screen reclamation, reducing chemicals put down the drain by 99% and baling all waste. Essential is currently undergoing its SMETA audit and aims to become GOTs-certified in the near future.
Essential is on track to maintain 30% growth this year and as George summarises: “Essential is built around quality and service; it is these two pillars that I believe have been the foundation to our success. It makes me proud to look around the factory on any given day and to be working on some of the world’s most recognised brands. It is because of our quality and service that we are trusted by our customers to be working on these brands.
“In the future I’m looking forward to continuing developing our relationships with our customers, as well as trying to bring new and innovative techniques to the market with a focus on trying to make our current processes as efficient and sustainable as possible.”