BORDERS textile entrepreneur Benny Hartop is to lobby finance secretary John Swinney as part of his campaign to create a “Made in Scotland” country of origin label to protect Scottish manufacturers.
Hartop led the management buyout at Hawick Knitwear in 2010 from investment group Harris Watson and has since overseen a doubling of sales for its key brand.
He now plans to push further into overseas markets, but is warning the revival being seen in the textile sector could be put at risk unless steps are taken to ensure consumers know when they are buying Scottish-made products.
“So many companies are now kidding on that they are Scottish in the names they give to products or brands with no reference to where the product is actually made,” said Hartop.
The entrepreneur plans to discuss the issue with Swinney at a meeting in March to see if any steps could be taken at a Scottish Government level to introduce some form of country of origin rule.
Hartop believes that, unless action is taken, the wider Scottish manufacturing sector could be damaged.
“If someone buys a product thinking it is made in Scotland but the quality is poor they may not buy Scottish again,” said Hartop.
Overall group turnover edged up to £8.5 million from £8.3m in the year to 31 March, but higher costs and product investment all but wiped out pre-tax profits with just £2,107 made compared to £263,941 in the previous year.
“The price of raw materials such as cashmere has almost doubled in the past three years on top of rises in energy costs and the introduction of auto-enrolment pensions,” said Hartop.
“We can’t pass many of these costs on because we are competing with offshore manufacturing.”
Hartop expects turnover in the current year to be about £9m, with a further increase to £10m next year as it looks to grow exports to markets including Northern Europe.
Staff numbers have increased by ten over the past year to about 235, and Hartop said the factory was operating at full capacity.
“There’s a real resurgence in the Borders textile industry and everyone is busy in the town. There’s a real appetite for ‘Made in Scotland’ products and people are moving away from buying something just for one season and throwing it away so they are willing to spend a bit more.”
Retailers with which the firm works include the Gold Brothers in Edinburgh, with whom it operates a store on the Royal Mile. The company also produces cashmere, merino wool and lambswool products for private-label customers in the UK and abroad.
Last year Hawick Knitwear was named the official knitwear supplier for Rangers football club and Hartop said he was interested in exploring similar deals with other sports clubs and brands.
Hawick Knitwear is jointly owned by Hartop and Lancashire-based hosiery manufacturer Ruia Group, which also owns Scottish golfing clothing company Glenmuir.
Hartop had been managing director of the company before staging the buy-out that saved the business, which can trace its roots to 1874.