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Heritage Welsh sock firm sets sights on international expansion

Chris Jones, joint managing director at Corgi

A Southwest Wales sock company, which started out life kitting out local miners before going on to been worn by royalty, has outlined plans to expand its global presence with an ambitious new exports plan.

Corgi, a luxury handmade sock and knitwear manufacturer based in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, currently exports its products to more than 30 countries around the world including Japan, America, Germany, and China, boasting an army of loyal fans, not to mention a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales.

The 128-year-old firm, which is now run by the fifth generation of the Jones family, plans to combat the current economic downturn by increasing its international exports to account for 70% of its trade over the coming year. Corgi has accessed Welsh Government’s export support to assist with its international plans and future growth,  including help visiting key markets and attending trade shows as well as assistance identifying potential contacts in new territories.

A key aim for the company is to expand its sales in China – a region that has quickly established itself as a major market for the firm. Since it began exporting there three years ago, Corgi’s exports to the region have soared to account for over 15% of its turnover, and it expects a further increase in the coming year.

While the company currently has contracts with distributors in Beijing and Shanghai, it hopes to broaden its presence to other Chinese cities such as Shenzhen. Corgi attributes its success in China to the growing popularity of wearing British made luxury brands in the country, which are seen as a status symbol. The company was also recently named the ‘most trendy brand of 2021’ by Chinese state television.

Corgi also aims to expand its sales in South America, after entering the market for the first-time last year with a deal in Chile with a distributer. Initially selling the products within his own shops, the distributor has since done deals with other stockists in Chile and Corgi has started to build a loyal fan base in the region. The firm has ambitions to also move into the Peruvian, Argentinian and Brazilian markets as well as other areas of south America, which have all been identified as growth markets due to their emerging and expanding middle classes who are looking internationally for luxury brands.

Established in 1893 in the small Welsh mining village where it is still located today, Corgi was founded by local trader Rhys Jones to provide high quality, durable socks for the men working in the nearby pits. Starting out life as a small haberdashery, the business grew to sell socks all over the UK before a deal was struck with iconic American fashion brand, Brooks Brothers – the oldest clothing retailer in the US – in the late 1940s, marking the start of Corgi’s export journey, and a long association with the world of high fashion, including partnerships with Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Thom Browne.

Just recently, Corgi has also signed a new partnership with celebrated British textile designer, William Morris which will enable the brand to use a selection of Morris’ classic designs across its socks ranges, something it also sees as a positive step in enabling it to continue to expand its international sales.

By the 1980s, Corgi was successfully exporting to Japan and America, and in 1988, was awarded a Royal Warrant by HRH the Prince of Wales for its knitwear and socks; the Prince having worn Corgi for many years. The company continues to supply the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal family with socks and knitted goods, and last year, worked on a collaboration with Buckingham Palace to supply socks for the Palace gift shop.

Today, Corgi is run by Chris Jones and his sister, Lisa Wood – the great, great grandchildren of Corgi’s founding father, both of whom recognise the importance of retaining an international outlook which they acknowledge has been integral to Corgi’s vision since it first began exporting 80 years ago.

The company has accelerated its export focus in the last five years, in which time it has begun exporting to 15 new markets including China, South America, South Africa, Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia, boosting its turnover by a third.

Like many businesses across the UK, the events of the last year affected Corgi’s trade, with many orders cancelled, reduced or delayed and future projects shelved but the firm sees international trade as key to its survival and future.

Chris Jones, joint managing director at Corgi said: “It’s been a testing year for nearly all businesses, and we have been no different. While we have seen domestic trade drop, our international sales have fortunately remained healthy, and this has helped us to remain resilient. There’s no doubt that without our export markets, we would have struggled to survive over these last few difficult months.

“Building our international portfolio is definitely going to be a key focus for us next year and we have some exciting plans to grow our presence in a number of countries such as China. Three years ago, we didn’t sell anything to China – now the country accounts for 15% of our sales and has provided a significant boost to our turnover. We have already received some large orders from China this year and are currently investing in new machinery to help us grow our output to satisfy these orders.”

For any businesses in Wales thinking about exporting, or growing their exports, Chris recommends attending Welsh Government led trade missions. He added: “It’s really important to visit and have regular contact with potential new buyers overseas. It’s simply not enough to just go over once and hope you’ll get orders – you need to keep going back and build relationships; build confidence and trust. This is essential to securing repeat business.

“Doing so can of course be difficult due to the costs involved in such trips, and also now of course, the travel restrictions we are now all living under, but support is available from Welsh Government to attend trade missions, even virtual ones, which is something we have made sure to utilise. Over the years, we have received financial support from Welsh Government to be able to travel to attend various trade missions around the world and these have been vital in securing and retaining new business.”