Charles Kirk to shut Worthing factory after more than 65 years in town

Charles Kirk in Goring Street, Worthing
Charles Kirk in Goring Street, Worthing

Charles Kirk, a manufacturer of school uniforms, embroidered knitwear and sweatshirts, is set to shut its factory in Worthing after more than 65 years in the town.

The company, based in Horton Buildings in Goring Street, employed 100 people at its zenith and currently has around 54 members of staff.

Charles Horton, Shara Horton-Parsons and Deborah Horton at the 75th anniversary of Charles Kirk in 2014

Charles Horton, Shara Horton-Parsons and Deborah Horton at the 75th anniversary of Charles Kirk in 2014

Originally founded by Charles Kirk in London in 1939, the company has been run by the Horton family for over 60 years.

Charles and Deborah Horton, two of the directors of the company, said that their impending retirement, Brexit and changes in the schoolwear industry were all factors that contributed to the decision to close.

They said: “Brexit has caused input prices to rise and the schoolwear industry is moving away from the high street retailer to more online selling with major schoolwear suppliers now owning major retailers.”

Recognising the ‘hard work and loyalty’ shown by its employees over many years, the directors said they wanted to give as much notice as possible to all staff being made redundant.

Staff outside the factory at the 75th anniversary of Charles Kirk in 2014

Staff outside the factory at the 75th anniversary of Charles Kirk in 2014

The company is slowly winding down its manufacturing as staff find alternative employment and by mid-November it will have stopped in Worthing, directors said.

Coolflow Schoolwear, which supplied Charles Kirk originally with sweatshirt fabric and in more recent times with knitwear and sweatshirts from offshore, will continue to distribute the Charles Kirk brand from their site in Leicester. Distribution and manufacture of the Charles Kirk brand via Coolflow Schoolwear will achieve ‘a shorter and leaner supply chain’, allowing the products to remain competitive in ‘an extremely challenging and ever changing market’, they said.

Charles Horton, managing director, said: “We have enjoyed great success since my grandfather got involved with Charles Kirk in 1953, with highlights being one of the first knitwear companies to market the Courtelle brand, making the pullovers and scarves for the first three Harry Potter films and in more recent times working with high end fashion companies Comme de Garcon and Molly Goddard.

“However, times have changed and the continuing loss of sales of UK made knitwear due to price have led us to make this decision to close.

Equipment at the factory

Equipment at the factory

“As a company we did not want to end up as many other companies in the industry have, running out of cash with no notice to our staff, suppliers or customers.

“By choosing the date we close, we hopefully will allow our staff to find alternative employment, and allow Coolflow Schoolwear to continue the distribution of the brand Charles Kirk.”

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