Since taking over the reins at Eveden Ltdfollowing a management buy-out in 1993, managing director Tony Thwaites has adhered to hispolicy of developing people in the business and recruiting staff with the potential togrow the company. Turnover has more than doubled in the last four years.
When you are competing againstinternationally known brand names such as Playtex and Gossard you need to develop yourniche market and concentrate on what you do best. This philosophy is serving Eveden Ltdwell, for it has established itself as one of the leading manufacturers of lingerie andcup-sized swimwear and has gained a reputation for the high quality of its designs, stylesand fit. The company believes it was the first manufacturer to develop pretty, stylishbras in a range of sizes other than the more popular A, B and C cups.
Eveden has two manufacturing sites, one in Desborough near Kettering and the other aforty-five minute drive away at Whitwick in Leicestershire. A tightly knit management teamled by Tony Thwaites has steered the company through a steady expansion period duringwhich the workforce has more than doubled.
In a fiercely competitive market Eveden’sbrands are performing well. The Fantasie line was introduced in the fifties and comprisesa highly successful range of bras from B to HH, an attractive bridal selection, andbra-sized swimwear. The Footprints range of bra sized swimwear is aimed at a youngermarket. The Rigby and Peller line in lingerie is attacking the area of the markettraditionally occupied by expensive French and Italian brands which do not cater forlarger sizes. Freya lingerie, introduced four months ago to appeal to the younger buyer,has already out-performed expectations.
There is a delicate balance to preservebetween product innovation and life cycle. A strong design team — all recruited fromthe same textiles course at Leicester University because of its emphasis on form as wellas design – using the latest technology is an asset, part of the “exciting”environment Tony Thwaites has aimed to create in order to attract and retain the rightcalibre of staff.
“Our manufacturing team, design,product managers, UK and export sales, and marketing function are all part of our success.There is no magic formula but I am a firm believer in bringing together a good group ofpeople and building the right culture through them”.
Thirty per cent of turnover is exportedwith the major market being the US where there is a small sales office. Holland, Belgium,Scandinavia and France are beginning to grow.
With eight out of ten UK women wearing the wrong sized bra, Eveden trains retailers tooffer free advice on fitting. With sales of bras through department stores in the UK onlyaccounting for 17 per cent of the total – the market being dominated by Marks &Spencer – there seems plenty of scope for further growth: the figure in France is nearer50 per cent.
Manufacturing manager, Cathy Wootton,comments: “We don’t make to order; therefore our sales predictions have to be madeaccurately. This requires good forecasting, good planning, good relationships betweensuppliers, purchasing and manufacturing. When we looked at the business a few years ago,and at gearing our staff to its demands, we saw that we needed to improve all thesefunctions to become more responsive to the customer. Now we are looking again at improvingdelivery times. This throws out training requirements for many staff as we reduce work inprogress and improve the skills of the workforce”.
Cathy Wootton endorses the team workingphilosophy and although there are only seven teams in the strictest sense of the word, thelines have been multi-skilled to help with balancing. Supervisors were asked to identifysecond and third skills they wanted to develop in each individual. Cathy believes thatteam working is broadly defined in the industry today and has joined a steering group setup by CAPITB Trust to identify current practice within the industry.
Promoting from within
There is a consistent approach to training across Eveden’s two manufacturingsites and National Vocational Qualifications are open to all staff who wish to achievethem, irrespective of their age. There is a policy of promoting from within and manyexamples of how this has been successful: the factory manager who began as a machinist;the cutter with a degree in history and politics who is training to be a work studyengineer.
A former Courtaulds management trainee,Cathy is anxious to give others as good a grounding as she believes she had herself. Tothis end there are links established with the local school through which one individual,now at Nottingham Trent University, and who spent one year on work experience at Eveden,may be offered a trainee technician role. She is already looking after four CMT units inNottingham in addition to her course work.
According to Cathy it is a question ofinvesting in young people at an early enough stage, especially when dealing with atechnically complex product — some bras have more than 30 operations. So workexperience offered to the local school is all part of Eveden’s strategy to improve theimage of the clothing industry in the area.
CAPITB Trust is the National TrainingOrganisation for the British clothing industry. If you would like to comment on yourexperience of team working or find out more about training and qualifications in theindustry please contact Paul Richardson. Tel: +44 (0)113 227 3345.