UKTI helps fashion a global future for Cambridgeshire firm
Tradition dies hard – even when it comes to must-have accessories for a fashion-conscious modern lifestyle.
With the help of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), Cambridgeshire company Sork has quickly made a mark internationally with its ‘CYW by Urbanz’ range of headphones and earphones for iPods, MP3 players and smart phones.
Brazil and Spain are the latest territories to have warmed to the charms of the company, which is using bright colours and vivid designs to catch the child, teen and young adult markets, instead of familiar monochrome.
CYW stands for Colour Your World – and the company’s most popular shades are, perhaps surprisingly, the old boy-and-girl favourites of blue and pink, still favoured over rival attractions like day-glo orange and yellow, tartan and animal prints.
“Starting a business at the beginning of a recession may have seemed bonkers, but we were confident our price structure would allow people to buy cool desirable products at affordable prices,” says finance director Shirley Osborne, who set up Sork and its Urbanz brand with MD Robert Kennard in 2009.
Its transformation from concept to international success in less than three years has been achieved with the assistance of UKTI. Now the company exports almost a third of the output that is designed by a small team in St Ives and manufactured at factories in southern China.
Headphones and earphones are 95 per cent of Sork’s £1m-plus turnover, but the company also does portable speakers, sleeves and covers for music players and phones, bags and clothing like T-shirts. The company has already notched up big overseas successes, and its products are now sold in four continents.
UKTI’s tradeshow access programme has helped them have a presence at vitally-important showcase events like the Hong Kong Electronics Fair and The Brandery, a huge fashion event in Barcelona. At home, it has taken their products to music festivals like Guilfest in Surrey and summer events like the Royal Norfolk Show.
UKTI’s Passport to Export is one of the schemes used by the Urbanz team. This offers new exporters free capability assessments, support to visit potential markets, mentoring from a local export professional, free action plans, customised and subsidised training, and continuing support in the target country.
“Without that we wouldn’t have known about being able to get reports on individual countries from British embassies and consulates,” says Shirley. “For instance, when we were looking at getting into Spain, we had one done on the Spanish market. And in Brazil we were going out to meet one customer but it made sense to try and make contact with some more, and they helped us do that as well.”
International trade adviser David Earp says: “This company learns fast. It sought and listened to our advice and made good use of the assistance UKTI provides – and it has paid dividends. This proves that exporting is a winning strategy, even in a recession - when you've got the right products.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Staff at a fashion store in a Sao Paulo shopping centre try out the latest designs of CYW headphones