R A Irwin
R A Irwin is a 63 year old family-owned and run textile manufacturing company. Now into its 3rd generation it manufactures creative, innovative and design-led fabrics for the window fashion and mattress ticking markets.
Uniquely vertically-integrated, the firm can make special yarns, warp, weave, laminate, print and stenter virtually all of its own fabrics. This gives it unbelievable control and leads to the firm’s unsurpassed quality, service and reputation for solving problems quickly. Add to these manufacturing capabilities, the in-house design team and direct-to-trade sales channels for an unmatched customer experience.
R A Irwin was founded in 1951 by Alex Irwin (Robert Alexander Irwin). The original business was a handkerchief sewing operation based in Magheralin, but the rise of paper tissues brought an end to the woven handkerchief business. By the end of the1960’s the company was utilizing its stitching facilities to convert warp knitted fabrics into sheets and bedspreads which it sold to the UK and Irish retail and mail order outlet. In 1968 a space was rented in a vacant mill in Portadown and a modern wide width dyeing and finishing facility was set up, followed in 1971 with the installation of a wide width rotary screen printer, one of the first of its type in the world. 1980 saw the death of Alex Irwin and control of the business passing to his 2 sons – Ian and Gordon.
As the warp knitting industry fell into decline in the mid 1970’s the company moved into stitch bonding. These fabrics were being printed for the bed cover and curtain market and also, significantly, for the mattress manufacturing industry.
The next major event was a fire in 1985 which completely destroyed the Portadown factory. This event would have finished off many businesses, but the company designed and installed a large stitch bonding and printing plant in a custom built factory on the site specifically for the mattress market.
The 1990’s saw R A Irwin grow rapidly. In 1992 a new factory was to set up to facilitate an innovative £3m non-woven line. This plant manufactured a high tenacity needle-punched fabric for the furniture and bedding trade. This became the “Raitex” division. The fabric was primarily used for spring pocketing in mattresses and linings for furniture. It also marked the first significant experiences for the company in export markets. Agents were appointed in France, Germany, Poland, Spain and Taiwan. For a while Raitex looked like it could become a runaway success; however the advent of cheaper spun-bond fabrics undercut the market for Raitex.
So the next major strategic turn was very important for the company today – window blinds.
R A Irwin was approached by a group of window blind makers who used Stitchbond as a low-cost vertical blind. Trials were done and a usable product manufactured to sell to this new market, which was hungry for fresh supply lines.
Raitex was closed in 2004 and the proceeds from the sale of the plant were re-invested in more weaving looms, to bring the total number of machines up to 32.
In the firm’s recent history, one of the key strategic investments has been in digital printing technology. This technology complemented the in-house designers’ print backgrounds and flair. It also underpinned the company’s ability to respond quickly to trends and give our customers what they want and need.
The culture of innovation is alive and well at R A Irwin. The firm continues to develop new products, invest in design and manufacturing capability. With deep and strong foundations the company is well-placed to adapt, survive and thrive, especially so in the fast-changing world of home furnishings in the 21st Century.