British Tags has been supplying bespoke swing tickets or “hangtags” since 1947 when the company was founded by Joseph Fairston, our MD’s Grandfather. Joseph, affectionately known as “Jack”, had worked in the garment industry for most of his life managing mainly coat manufacturing companies. Wrightsons Printers was a family business on his wife’s side, based in Ruislip and producing a wide range of printed products.
The garment industry used printed swing tickets, which at that time were informational only, giving details of the product, such as sizing and price. However, Joseph was a visionary and he could see the value of customising swing tickets with a company’s logo and branding so that a clothing item became more associated with the designer/retailer. And thus British Tags Ltd was born. The new company’s first offices were in Tottenham Court Road, while Wrightsons Printers were their major supplier, printing the bespoke swing tickets and tags. In the 1960s the government of the day required non-nationalised companies to have a prefix before the word ‘British’ and so the company had to be renamed. Mr Fairston chose to use the Wrightsons name of his wife’s family and thus the company became Wrightsons British Tags Ltd, which is still its legal name today.
Joseph’s son, Martin Fairston, joined the business in the mid 1950s in his early 20s and he too was innovative and hungry for the company to expand and soon took on the role of Managing Director. The 1970s saw big changes for the company. They picked up large contracts with C & A and Debenhams, two very big household names based in Oxford Street, close to the British Tags HQ. However, this accelerated growth necessitated a move to larger premises, as the range of products had expanded, to include woven and adhesive labels, care labels and other garment trims alongside a larger range of garment swing ticketing, to service these two new big customers. Soho was chosen for its proximity to Oxford Street and the new office included much-needed warehouse space. Space was critical to the company’s success as the product range grew and this need for space precipitated the next move in 1986, this time to Westland Place in Islington, near Old Street: expanded office space and a larger warehouse.
Martin Fairston’s son, Miles, followed his father into the business in 1993 after graduating from St Andrew’s University and took on the MD mantle from his father. Shortly afterwards, a Leeds-based print plant, WBT Manufacturing Ltd was set up. However, with manufacturing in the UK beginning to show a decline, Miles saw that it was going to be important to have manufacturing bases in Hong Kong and China and he made it a priority to set up offices in the Far East. Miles saw that there were opportunities to offer branded packaging to the company’s swing ticket and woven label customers and he grew the company’s product base to include gift boxes, carrier bags, jute and canvas bags, tissue paper and other customised packaging products. Customers also wanted bespoke promotional items such as pin badges, wristbands and keyrings, and thus the focus of British Tags became 3 core areas of branded promotional products, branded packaging and branded labelling. With the increased business that followed and the growing product range, another move to find even larger warehouse space became necessary.
In December 2005 Wrightsons British Tags bought a large warehouse with offices in Peasmarsh, on the outskirts of Guildford. Now that the UK had truly grabbed the benefits of email and mobile phone technology, together with a growth of efficient international and national delivery companies in the UK, the necessity of being in the middle of London was no longer required. In 2008/9 Miles set up offices in India and Turkey and 2012 saw the company become a member of SEDEX which promotes ethical manufacturing worldwide. The move to Guildford has allowed the company to double in size and increase its product range in all three areas of the business: suit cover bags, internet cartons, 3D labels, garment hangers, branded stationery products, reusable cups, cuff links, dog leads, balloons, medals and more were all added to the offering. New technologies and new products enabled the company to reach customers in all corners of the UK.
The future looks as interesting as its past with the new decade’s challenge to all of us to tackle the urgent issue of climate change full on. Customers are more and more demanding sustainable products with buyers concerned about carbon footprint, and British Tags’ eco-friendly offering is growing month by month. “That is where our R & D budget is now mainly spent – working with our suppliers to find environmentally-friendly options for eventually ALL our products,” says MD Miles. “I sometimes wonder what my grandfather and father would make of the company today. I hope they would be delighted to see that we are still producing swing tickets albeit with many enhanced and artistic processes added to the production. But ‘plastic’ bags made out of potato starch and lanyards made out of bamboo might cause them to scratch their heads! I like to think they would be pleased that we are still an innovative and customer-focused business; that their ethos lives on”