Stylish knitted gloves from a Ballymena company are becoming an increasingly popular fashion accessory in Japan.

During the past four years, Capemist Gloves, an Invest Northern Ireland client company, has seen its business in Japan grow to provide over 15 per cent of turnover and is now aiming to achieve similar growth in South Korea.

The clothing company, which is based at Cullybackey and employs 25 people, also supplies knitwear branded by Paul Smith one of the UK’s top fashion designers for sale in Japan.

Mervyn Blackburn, Capemist’s Managing Director, recently took part in an Invest NI trade mission to both markets and returned with a batch of new orders from major stores and trading houses like Kanematsu Corporation and Nakazu Trading in Tokyo and the Ho Corporation in Seoul.

“Our success in Japan is the result of an investment in design and dedicated marketing that included participation in Invest NI trade missions to Japan and other parts of the Far East, as well as attending sectoral exhibitions,” Mr Blackburn said.

“The Japanese are also especially keen on Western fashions which they see as being high quality and stylish. They are attracted to our gloves because of the designs and the finest quality wool and thermal yarns used in their manufacture,” he added.

Capemist’s distinctive designs are produced in-house by two designers. As well as dealing directly with key Japanese customers, the company uses agents in Britain, including the Creative Fashion Network, Japan Strategies, Abbeycairn and Creagaran to develop its business in the Far East.

Commenting on Capemist’s export success, Tracy Meharg, Invest NI’s Managing Director of Innovation and Capability Development Services, said: “This company is a good example of how a small business in a traditional sector can achieve growth through investing in design and branding, and by focusing on niche export markets; the type of activities that the Kurt Salmon Action Plan recommended should be undertaken by local textiles and clothing companies to ensure growth.

“Capemist has used our trade programme to develop successfully its marketing capability. By taking part regularly in market visits to the Far East, this company has identified business opportunities, made important contacts and is building close relationships with agents and customers.”

“The achievements of a local company in a very difficult global business environment is extremely encouraging. Exports won in Asia are significant because these are exceptionally competitive markets”, she added.

Capemist Gloves is a family-run business that was established in 1983. It also manufactures hats and other knitted accessories.