Alexandra the great
Designing and manufacturing garments for over 160 years, Alexandra and its sister companies Dimensions and Yaffy are the UK’s largest supplier of uniforms and Alexandra has recently been playing a key role in the battle against Covid-19. Twinhill, a subsidiary in America, has also played a vital role in supporting its customers through this pandemic
You would be hard-pressed to find a company with a richer heritage than Alexandra. With roots traceable back to 1854, the business began life as a drapery store in the centre of Bristol before diversifying into workwear. After gaining a reputation for exceptional customer service, Alexandra opened a further 18 stores across the UK and by 1969 the firm has installed its own production facility in Scotland.
“Between 1979 and 1986 we took on a number of additional distribution and manufacturing facilities,” Senior Commercial & Business Director Tina Graves says. “By the time we floated the business in 1985, Alexandra was employing around 1400 people – 1000 of whom were part of production in Scotland – and we were probably producing over 80,000 garments a week.”
Not long before the company celebrated its 150th anniversary, Alexandra was acquired by US company Men’s Wearhouse. Today, the organisation’s main focus is on catalogue and off-the-peg embroidered garments, mainly in the healthcare, facility management, hospitality, and public sectors.
Over the years, Alexandra has built long-standing relationships with a number of major corporations, but one of the company’s most loyal clients remains the National Health Service (NHS), for whom the firm has been producing uniforms, tunics, trousers, dresses, and scrubs for over 70 years. An enduring partnership forged over decades of collaboration, Alexandra and the NHS share a bond of trust and mutual respect. It was, therefore, unsurprising when the NHS turned to Alexandra for support at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. A dependable partner in a crisis – Alexandra supplied thousands of garments for female volunteers in the First AlexandraWorld War – the company acted swiftly in the nation’s time of need.
“Our key focus was to supply frontline workers and we worked very closely with the NHS supply chain in England and Wales,” Tina explains. “Things have changed quite significantly in the healthcare sector over the last few months and scrubs have become the predominant product request from the NHS. We quickly moved a lot of our production into scrubs as the turnover for that product set increased by over 600 per cent in one week. We do carry healthy stocks, but as you can imagine, that sort of increase has an impact on our stockholding.”
Faced with global factory closures and production challenges caused by the pandemic, Alexandra turned its attention to finding new facilities in the UK and across Europe to compliment the firm’s existing network. Supported by the Welsh government, Alexandra took on Laura Ashley’s Texplan production capabilities in Newtown, bringing machinists out of furlough to help make medical scrubs and other essential products. Today, the company continues to operate under strict social distancing rules, manufacturing vital supplies not only for the NHS, but also for the care in the community market. More than anything, Tina has been impressed by the spirit of unity and teamwork evident across the business and the industry at large.
“The people who make up our workforce have been really proud to say they are supporting the NHS, and that goes all the way through our supply chain,” she reports. “We have drawn on our existing connections and created new relationships, but the common factor is that everyone is so proud to be able to help and happy to be a part of something bigger; there is a smile on everybody’s face. So many companies have been willing to put themselves out during the last few months and turn things around extremely quickly.”
Since the beginning of the year, Alexandra has developed new relationships with a number of businesses and suppliers, including a factory in Portugal that was able to start producing 30,000 gowns and scrubs with less than a week’s notice, alongside this, with the support of Carrington’s, the company has developed several partnerships across the UK with manufacturers to develop and supply healthcare uniform. Becky Jones, Alexandra’s Global Sales and Commercial Director, suggests that if there is one positive the company can draw from the Coronavirus pandemic, it is the new connections the firm has made since the outbreak and the future projects it can expect as a result.
“The work we’ve done over the last few months is already starting to open doors for us,” Becky states. “Sodexo are now talking to us not just about global uniforms, but also about global PPE supply. We are currently talking to people directly in contact with the First Minister of the Welsh Government, as well as speaking to directors of Nursing and the NHS.
“A year ago, these opportunities would not have presented themselves quite as easily and I think it is mainly down to our recent performance and the agility we have shown over the last 10 to 11 weeks. Where similar companies have struggled, we have been able to turn things around and manoeuvre ourselves into a position where we can be a vital source of support and supply. As a result, businesses are already preparing to turn to us in normal times.”
As lockdown rules are eased and more people return to work, in the coming weeks, Alexandra will be supplying kit bags containing gloves, aprons, masks, and sanitiser for desks and chairs. An idea developed by an Alexandra team member, Becky hopes the kit bags will ease the transition for employees who have been working at home or on furlough. The kit bags are just one of the company’s upcoming products and will be released alongside t-shirts and polo shirts containing social distancing slogans and messages to be worn by those working in the hospitality, facilities management, and public sectors. Like all Alexandra garments, the shirts have been designed after careful consultation with the firm’s clients.
“Collaboration with our customers is absolutely critical as far as we are concerned,” Tina asserts. “It is all about the experience of the wearer and supporting the business that those garments are going to. We work very closely with our clients on any new product set or any new design to make sure it meets their requirements, and that includes a lot of testing and wearer trials.
“One of the key factors in Alexandra’s longevity and success is the company’s historical reputation for great service. We support the users of our products and people not only associate us with quality goods, but more importantly, with the service we provide. We regularly receive reviews like, ‘I ordered a garment at 4pm yesterday afternoon and I received it the following day at 9am so I could make my shift in the afternoon. You have really helped me do my job.’ That is the reputation we have and people come to us knowing we will provide the quality and the service they need.”
Alexandra is a company with generations of workwear expertise, a storied history, and a steadfast commitment to its principles of quality, good design, and reliable service. In the years ahead, the firm plans to extend its product range and expand its global footprint across Europe, America, and Australia. Whatever the future holds, Tina and Becky are aware that it cannot be achieved without the company’s highly skilled and dedicated workforce.
“Throughout this difficult year, I have been amazed by the way our team has pulled together and I am incredibly proud of every single member of our group,” Tina declares. “When the pandemic hit, the world was changing in front of us from one day to the next. As demand went through the roof, everybody pulled together to provide critical support and to help us make a difference. Everyone has really made their mark over the last few weeks and they’ve done it in a proud and conscientious way.”
Services: Designer and manufacturer of garments