When competitors were busy outsourcing production to the Far East, Planet Knox defiantly refused to follow suit.
The company makes protective gear for motorcylists, although its garments are also used by skiers, horse riders and mountain bikers.
They are manufactured at Derwent Mills Commercial Park, Cockermouth, where the business employs 26 staff.
Operations director Aaron Travell said: “We’re probably the only [motorcycle garment] brand still manufacturing in the UK.
“There are one or two doing contracts for police motorcycle riders but in terms of being a mass-market brand, we are the only one.”
So why do they haven’t followed the herd and sourced garments from Asia?
“If you buy from China,” Aaron explained, “you have to commit to big volumes and long lead times. You’re buying stock five or six months ahead.
“Being a manufacturer makes us more nimble and responsive. It allows us to innovate more quickly and to keep a very close eye on quality.
“Quality is absolutely central to what we’re about. If you sell a product to a customer and it’s not right, they are not going to come back – we’re trying to build a brand that people come back to.”
The business was founded in 1981 by Aaron’s father Geoff, a motorbike enthusiast whose hopes of riding professionally were ended by an accident.
An upholsterer by trade, the accident made him realise how the foam in cushions could be used to protect bikers – and Planet Knox was born.
It makes protective equipment, performance layering systems, hand armour and outerwear under its own name and for major brands such as Triumph Motorcycles, Victory Motorcycles, ReVit and Ixon.
Originally based at Dunstable in Bedfordshire, the business moved to North Wales, then Scotland, before arriving at Aspatria in Cumbria in 1993 – attracted by the availability of skilled workers and suitable premises.
It has been in Cockermouth since 2000.
Planet Knox is very much a family enterprise. Geoff is managing director, his wife Margaret is commercial director, Aaron is operations director and Aaron’s sister April is a clothing designer.
The company is now on threshold of significant growth thanks to a £150,000 investment to enhance its manufacturing capability.
Aaron said: “We have some exciting new projects in the pipeline, which could be very big for us. We had to up the ante and ramp up production.
“We’ve invested in CAD systems and 3D modelling. At the moment we make all of our patterns by hand, which is a real skill but takes a long time and is very labour intensive. The new technology makes us more efficient.
“We’re also investing in a huge cutting table, which will make cutting more accurate and allow us to turn out more volume.”
The investment should be complete this month when the business expects to take on between two and four additional workers, with more to follow if the order book fills up as anticipated.
None of this would have happened but for help the company received through the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
Growth Hub adviser Alan Smithson helped secure £70,000 in grants from Allerdale Borough Council’s Social Impact Investment Fund (SIIF) and the European LEADER programme.
SIIF utilises funding from Sellafield Ltd to support entrepreneurial initiatives that allow business to start, grow and safeguard or protect jobs.
The LEADER programme, which runs from 2014 to 2020, offers grants to rural businesses to boost employment and growth.
Aaron said: “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the grants.
“We’ve also had to invest in tooling and without the grant we wouldn’t have had the cash flow to allow that.”
He added: “Alan Smithson has been so helpful. Over the years we’ve worked with many consultants and he’s been one of the best.
“Andrea Hines from Allerdale Borough Council and Ruth Guthrie and Chris Edwards from LEADER have been very supportive too.
“It has been a good process. There are a lot of boxes to tick but everyone has supported what we’re doing, and been good to work with.”
Councillor Mark Fryer, deputy leader of Allerdale Council and holder of the economic growth portfolio, is delighted to see Planet Knox benefit from SIIF.
He said: “This is exactly what the fund is all about – local people creating local jobs. It shows what can be achieved when Allerdale Borough Council works with the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub to help businesses overcome obstacles to growth. It’s a win-win.”
To find out how Cumbria Business Growth Hub can help your business, click here or call 0844 257 84 50.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce