Heritage Welsh family firm Corgi, a world-renowned manufacturer of luxury socks and knitwear, has long had an export focus and boasts an army of loyal fans from all over the globe.

The company now 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 been creating its famous handmade socks and knitwear from its base in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, for the last 128 years. 

Founded by Rhys Jones in 1893 in the small Welsh mining village where it is still located today, the company started out life as an independent haberdashery kitting out local miners, but quickly grew to service clothing retailers across the UK. 

After seeing great success domestically, the business began thinking about its international potential and in the late 1940s, struck a deal with iconic American fashion brand, Brooks Brothers – the oldest clothing retailer in the US. 

Luxury fashion

This marked the start of Corgi’s export journey, as well as a long association with the world of luxury fashion, including partnerships with Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Thom Browne.

By the 1980s, Corgi was successfully exporting to America and Japan, but it was also doing well at home and  in 1988, was awarded a Royal Warrant by HRH the Prince of Wales; the Prince having worn the brand for many years. 

Corgi 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, the company is run by the fifth generation of the Jones family - siblings Chris Jones and Lisa Wood - and boasts a substantial international customer base spanning more than 30 countries across Europe, North America, South America and Asia. 

Increased export focus

Corgi has notably 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. 

The firm has received support from Welsh Government over the last few years to assist its export growth including financial support to attend various trade missions around the world which have enabled it to meet potential distributors, many of whom are now customers. 

Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which prevented physical trade missions from taking place, Welsh Government has adapted to offer virtual experiences instead.

Targeting China

To help Corgi remain resilient and sustain its growth during such uncertain times, Corgi is now looking to further boost its export sales in 2021. A key aim is to expand its presence in China, which has quickly established itself as a major market for the firm. Despite having only exported to China for three years, sales to the region account for 15% of Corgi’s turnover. And while the company currently has contracts with distributors in Beijing and Shanghai, it hopes to secure deals in other Chinese cities such as global leading tech hub, Shenzhen.

Alongside this, Corgi also hopes to grow its sales in South America, after entering the market for the first-time last year with a deal in Chile. The company plans to increase sales within the country as well as enter the Peruvian, Argentinian and Brazilian markets, which have all been identified as growth markets due to their emerging and expanding middle classes who are looking internationally for luxury brands. 

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 already received some large orders from China for early 2021 and are currently investing in new machinery to help us grow our output to satisfy these orders.”

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