Portwest innovates to grow

HAI CEO, Annemarie Harte visits west of Ireland designer and manufacturer of workwear, personal protective equipment (PPE) and outdoor leisurewear, Portwest, and finds a company that combines tradition and innovation to compete effectively nationally and globally.

On arrival into Westport on a beautiful sunny day I was greeted by Croagh Patrick in all its glory. This tourist mecca is home to Portwest, an indigenous Irish company that supplies safety wear to all parts of the globe. The company attempted to register the name ‘Westport’ in the late 1980s but found it wasn’t possible and opted for switching the name around. They haven’t looked back since…

Blend of management skills I met Owen Hughes, the Managing Director and Rachel Davoren, the General Manager. Owen is a third generation Hughes and descended from Charles who founded the company in 1904. The fourth generation have already started working in the business. Owen is quick to point out, however, that Portwest is a very happy and successful blend of management skills, encompassing both family members and management talent recruited from the locality. Rachel has been with the firm for 10 years and staff turnover in general is low. The Hughes family is strongly committed to the locality and has made substantial investments there. Recent local purchases include Westport House and the family also own Hotel Westport.

Since its origins at the turn of the last century, Portwest has evolved from a workwear company to a full PPE company that caters for the customer from head to toe. They may be known to retailers and merchants for their traditional mid-range products but there is plenty of innovation coming down the line. In total, 200 new styles will be launched in their catalogue in the autumn giving a modern, younger and sportier edge to safety-wear products.

Innovation-driven

Who says meeting European regulations for safety wear has to be dull? With the help of designers in the UK and France, innovation is driving the design of their new products. An example is the incorporation of Glowtex into their garments. Glowtex is the latest innovation in light-emitting technology and Portwest’s Glowtex products have the following features:

  • Brightly coloured fluorescent background fabric for complete conspicuity in daylight;
  • Very high-performance, HiVisTex retro-reflective tape, which bounces light back to the source and allows for superior visibility of the wearer in all weather conditions;
  • Light-emitting Glowtex phosphorescence tape that accumulates the light in well-lit places and emits light in very low or no-light conditions, i.e., it glows in the dark, lasts up to six hours once illuminated and can then be recharged!

This type of product has many added-value benefits, apart from the enhanced safety of the wearer. It ensures individuals are visible on site, particularly useful in the event of an accident or emergency. It enables more efficient management when personnel are closing up a construction site for the day. And the product can be used in a variety of scenarios outside of work, e.g., walking at night.

Many more similarly innovative products like this are on the way, including a new transparent peak-view helmet. This means no more taking off the helmet to see above you and you can look up with full vision. It’s fascinating to see how simple changes to existing products introduce completely new dimensions and functionality.

Ezee Zip is another innovative product, exclusive to Portwest. The simple click to fasten makes it very easy to close and its clever design eliminates fraying or broken zips.

Global footprint

Portwest sells throughout Europe and all orders are dispatched within 24 hours through warehouses in the UK and Poland. What startled me was the scale of the organisation – it operates manufacturing plants in China, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Owen says that Portwest takes its corporate social responsibility very seriously. The plant in Bangladesh provides meals to over 2,000 employees at lunchtime and their health and safety is of paramount importance. Portwest entered the US market in 2014 and, this year, have acquired a company in Australia.

Through their efforts to promote safety and safety wear, Owen says they expect to double their turnover in the next three to five years from €150 million to €350 million. The key to achieving this? New styles, innovation and new markets. Portwest is truly an Irish success story with a strong family heritage and ambitious plans for the future. It is also an inspiring story for the west of Ireland, long noted for exporting its people, which is now thriving through exporting its products.

If you have a story to tell as a supplier or manufacturer in the Irish market, please contact Annemarie on 01 298 0969 or annemarie@hardwareassociation.ie for more information.