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Thursday, 27 August 2015

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Iconic Carlisle bag firm invests in new factory

Demand for its high-quality British-made products has prompted John Chapman to invest in a new factory.

Daniel Chamier photo
Daniel Chamier

The business, at Harraby Green Business Park in Carlisle, produces hand-made canvas and leather shoulder bags, luggage, rucksacks and fishing bags.

It continued to manufacture here while most rivals outsourced production to the Far East.

The decision has paid off in export markets, especially, where buyers are prepared to pay a premium for that increasingly-rare label ‘Made in England’.

The company has ploughed £150,000 into converting a former agricultural building, next to its existing premises, into a state-of-the-art 6,000sq ft facility.

Daniel Chamier, owner and chief executive of John Chapman, said: “This is a big moment for us.

“We ran out of room in our old factory – it’s a lovely old building but it isn’t really suitable for manufacturing. We’ve made it into an office, factory shop and showroom.

“We now have a brand spanking new facility that will double our capacity, allow us to get bigger machinery in and take on apprentices that are crucial for our business in the longer term.

“I’d like to hope that we have created a centre of excellence for bag making.”

The company secured a £25,000 grant towards the project from a pot for small firms secured by Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund.

Christopher Harrison Group, which owns the business park, carried out the work.

“In the last three or four years we have more than doubled the workforce,” Mr Chamier added.

“We now have 22 staff including three apprentices and we expect to take on new people over the next year.”

The business already has annual sales of just under £1m.

Half the output is exported – Germany and Japan are the biggest markets – although the company has recently secured orders from China and Hong Kong.

The extra capacity will allow John Chapman to bring forward new products. It is revamping its website – www.chapmanbags.com – and a new range of bags is due to be launched in Italy next month.

The company was founded in the early 1980s by businessman John Chapman who still lives nearby and is planning to attend the official opening of the new facility next Friday.

Mr Chamier bought the business eight years ago.

His background is in financial services and he first came across John Chapman as a customer.

“I was looking for a canvas rucksack, got talking to John and ended up with the company,” he said.

“I bought it because I felt that everyone else was making the mistake of rushing out of the UK. A lot of people, particularly in export markets, want a British-made product.”

Many iconic British brands now outsource all or part of their production, including the likes of Barbour, Hardy, Hackett, Burberry and Paul Smith.

Carlisle MP John Stevenson will perform the official opening.

He said: “Seeing businesses such as John Chapman expand and reinvest in our city shows signs of confidence being restored in our local economy.

“Carlisle has a strong history of manufacturing, industry and design.”



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