The T-shirt Factory Europe Limited

“Invest to Grow support doesn’t just end with a successful application and piece of funding, it has become an important relationship”.

Nick Higgins, Managing Director

The T-shirt Factory Europe (TSF) began in 2008 as an award-winning spin-out from Loughborough University. Originally set up to provide merchandise and clothing to university teams and halls, within two years of start-up the company had a growing client base in the wider commercial world and moved to bigger premises in Loughborough town centre.

The company was incorporated in August 2012 and continued to expand and grow, moving to a larger site in Leicester. The company now provides decorated merchandise to a wide variety of sectors and is one of the fastest-growing SMEs within the sector.   The company's mission is to be one of Europe's leading sustainable and ethical suppliers within the ever-evolving fashion industry. They aim to be a carbon-zero company within the next three to five years, providing ethically produced, climate-conscious fashion.

Why engage with Invest to Grow?

The company has been supported by the University of Derby’s Invest to Grow programme with two projects which have helped them implement and deliver upon their ambitious growth plans.

In 2018, TSF was awarded £150k of Invest to Grow monies, predominantly in the form of loan funding, to purchase a Kornit Avalanche HD Print Machine. With the new equipment, the company was able to enter the digital direct-to-garment printing arena, which was emerging as the future of industrial garment decorating.

Following the successful delivery of their first Invest to Grow supported project and having reached capacity at their Leicester premises, TSF approached the programme for a second time in 2021, to enable the continuation of growth for the company. This investment was to focus on bringing the majority of operations in-house and leading-edge technology to enable the business to enter into the high-street retail sector with an on-demand concept that would allow them to meet significant customer demand. In May 2022, TSF received £250k to assist in moving to a new facility, setting up production facilities and investing in a range of state-of-the-art equipment including digital printers, screen printing machines and packing facilities. 

Internal shot of screen printing factory showing equipment

What has been the impact of Invest to Grow?

Since applying to Invest to Grow in 2018, TSF has seen its turnover increase from £2.5m in 2018 to £15m in 2023, with the company headcount rising from 12 to 49 during this period.

The investment in equipment and technology, supported by Invest to Grow, has enabled the company to grow substantially, servicing existing customers and attracting new business. The high standards of the new printing machinery (quality, durability, output) achieved the criteria set out by some of the leading high-street retailers. Since the investment from Invest to Grow, TSF has been accepted through the supplier sampling/onboarding process and is now in the nominated supplier network.

The machinery that TSF invested in has contributed to helping the company achieve its carbon offsetting targets, as they run very clean and are supporting their drive to net-zero carbon. It provides detailed feedback on productivity, output, downtime, and costings, so TSF is now able to make efficiency savings in all these areas.

Managing Director, Nick Higgins, commented:

“The machinery that we invested in services the world of e-commerce, which during the pandemic became vitally important to the business, as bricks and mortar retail closed for prolonged periods of time. This could have crippled the business if we weren’t able to invest, and then re-invest, in the technology and machinery that we did. By bringing a larger portion of our printing in-house, we were able to improve our profitability. This has helped to safeguard existing jobs and provide opportunities to further increase headcount”.

“Achieving the goals set out at the outset of both projects would not have been possible in the timescales without the Invest to Grow funding and assistance of the team in getting through the process. The Invest to Grow team made the whole experience very painless and went at our pace so as not to disrupt the running of the business. We were supported throughout all stages. The growth of our business over the past 4 years, assisted by Invest to Grow, has been unprecedented, and we are now on a strong year-on-year upward growth pattern”.

TSF is also considering taking part in a management development programme with the University of Derby and has had the opportunity to attend various networking events in recent years. TSF has also received recommendations from the team on other parts of the University and wider business community, where it can either receive help or explore an opportunity. Nick Higgins commented:

“The key takeaway here is that the Invest to Grow support doesn’t just end with a successful application and piece of funding, it has become an important relationship”.