Swansea-based flag makers refocus manufacturing to supply medical clothing for frontline staff
Red Dragon Flagmakers have made an extraordinary effort in diversifying to supply the UK NHS as well as frontline workers in care homes, pharmacies, individual agency carers and surgeries with the ‘Scrubs for All’ initiative.
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Where did the business and idea originate?
The original Red Dragon Flagmakers business started in 1969 under the name of Mott and Jones, when my father was asked to make the flags and banners for the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle – something we recently remade (50 years on) for the TV series the Crown. After his retirement the business closed and we restarted it together as a social mission business formally launching in 2014. Since then we have focussed on the production of custom one off traditional stitched and quality printed coat of arms, flags, banners and bunting for private, public sector and corporate clients. We have clients worldwide. We make flags for the European Space Agency, the North Pacific Fisheries Commission in Japan, film and TV (Vanity Fair, The Crown, Endeavour, Les Mis, Anthropoid, Sex Education to name a few), castles, councils, The Royal Yacht Squadron and other sailing clubs, churches, cathedrals, the Palace of Westminster and many private individuals who want a unique flag to fly in their garden or grab attention outside their business premises. As a social mission business we spend our profits on the development of people introduced to us by strategic partner charities and agencies who support individuals with mental health, behavioural and education issues. We make all work ready and employ a small percentage.
Tell us how you have adapted to contribute to supporting the NHS frontline staff?
We are a sewing business and have many industrial lockstitch and overlocking machines with large cutting tables and a willing team. We continue to make flags as its important to maintain our core business revenue stream for long term survival but with the arrival of the pandemic our order book to supply festivals and events vanished overnight so we connected with the Welsh Gov supply chain. We now make navy scrubs for Alexandra who have the contract to make scrubs for the NHS UK wide and in addition to this we have our own GOFUNDME fundraiser SCRUBS FOR ALL, the funds from which pay forward on our ability to make red scrubs sets to donate out to front line workers in care homes, pharmacies, individual agency carers and surgeries. Its been a steep learning curve but the skills we have developed over many years have proven to be flexible and transferable.
— Red Dragon Flagmakers (@reddragonmfg) May 2, 2020
How has your delivery model been affected by the Covid-19 lockdown situation?
Bar four members of staff on furlough we have kept the business open and busy. We have ensured staff safety by collecting and returning some home every day with private transport and all have committed to respecting the national lockdown by not exposing themselves to any danger by only being at home or at work – no mean feat for some of our team who are working hungry and on minimal sleep through Ramadan!
"The social business sector is unliterally becoming the go to standard business model and we should all be extremely proud of what we have achieved. Onwards and upwards!"
How has being part of the existing supply chain helped you deliver outside it?
It wasn’t easy to hook into the Welsh Government supply chain but with persistence we have done so and once we had the Gerber patterns required for the official fabric and style of patterns, we used this knowledge to source the fundraiser fabrics and make for the fundraiser. We originally set out to make masks as our contribution but felt that without certified fabrics we couldn’t hand on heart make anything not fit for purpose which is why we reverted to making scrubs.
Has Covid-19 resulted in any permanent changes for the better?
Its early days and no-one can predict what the future holds but those who know me will agree I have always been vocal (and pushy) about how important it is to support manufacturing in Wales and the UK. If nothing else this pandemic has shown the World how important it is to have things made and manufactured close to home – we have made ourselves vulnerable as a country outsourcing everything – manufacturing, farming and more and Covid19 could be a timely turning point back to self-sufficiency. Wales was a hotbed of manufacturing 30 years ago, manufacturing clothing for top brands and for the World market. Back in the day my father helped Welsh Gov with the re-training and re-deployment of staff from the xxx factories in the valleys at the same time that other factories were closing down to manufacture first in Morocco and then further afield in South East Asia. Its not a new story to those of us brought up in Wales and we remember too well how the closure of factories like Burberry in Porth decimated local villages and the livelihoods of the local workers. Burberry went to Hong Kong, a move which failed and they came back to the UK to set up again in Leeds, supported by the UK Gov but not for some reason back to where they had started. We have an ageing population and veritable army of skilled machinists from the textile goods production industry which are underutilised and capable of working – we need to engage and reemploy as well as nurture the next generation to join those industries. I hope that our efforts and the efforts of the other micro, small and larger companies who have survived thus far will be called upon as examples to follow when future plans are made.
Can you give us a summary of what has been achieved?
Quite simply we are determined to survive and with the exception of a £10K grant from the Government via the council we are surviving on sales on flags and the production of scrubs for the supply chain (payment for which only comes through 30 days after we’ve delivered the 000s required. We’re not a charity so there we have no access to grant pots; our social mission business doesn’t fit into any predetermined funding parameters so there’s no route there so the only way to get through this is to work harder and smarter. I believe that the businesses that survive this will thrive after this pandemic – its what pushes us through.
Did you have to overcome any major obstacles / challenges?
It was an uphill struggle hooking into the Welsh Gov supply chain but over time I have built a strong network of contacts and by hook and by crook we made it happen.
Any there any members of staff / community you would like to give special mention to?
I have an incredible team, staff and community volunteers alike. All have put their backs to the wheel and none have made a drama out of the situation, none have taken time off and all without exception have worked hard and longer hours with music on in the background and lots of happy chatter to keep things going. I am very blessed to be surrounded by them.
I would like to thank Welsh Gov for including us in the supply chain and a big thank you to everyone at Life Science hub, the Covid SWARM team and everyone pulling together to make things happen so quickly and efficiently.
Importantly and by no means last, we would all like to give a big shout out to Ewan Tozer at Orangebox for cutting hundreds of metres of red fabric for the fundraiser free of charge and to thank Dr David Woolf of St Lazararus Church in Cardiff for the support and generous donations of time and money he and his colleagues have made to the SCRUBS FOR ALL fundraiser.
If you had one message for the social business sector right now, what would it be?
The social business sector is unliterally becoming the go to standard business model and we should all be extremely proud of what we have achieved. Onwards and upwards!
Red Dragon Flagmakers has received business consultancy support and advice from Social Business Wales, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
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