The COVID-19 pandemic presents major challenges for North West businesses, including one of our largest local manufacturing businesses. Until recently, O’Neills Irish International Sports Company Limited’s production facilities in Strabane and Derry employed over 750 staff in the manufacture and supply of performance multi-sportswear to teams globally. However, with all their major customers cancelling or postponing orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were forced to temporarily lay off the majority of their staff on the 20th of March.
Kieran Kennedy, Managing Director commented: “This was the most difficult day in my career to date, I have been through challenging times for business, including recessions, Brexit and the troubles, but I have never had to deal with such a fast changing and far reaching challenge.”
Just one day after the team were laid off, Kieran was put in touch with the Western Health and Social Care Trust, who had an urgent need for scrubs for frontline healthcare staff. Kieran said: “I was aware of the demand for PPE as it was highlighted in the media, and when I got a sample set of scrubs, I knew right away that we had the capability to produce them in Strabane.”
In the normal course of new product development, sampling, the approval process, adapting the production process and upskilling staff to manufacture a totally new product takes months. Kieran commented: “We didn’t have months. Within hours, our Dublin dyehouse was fully operational dyeing fabric for the scrubs. The first rolls of fabric were in Strabane on Tuesday 24th of March”. The samples were approved, and our stitchers returned to a full order book on Wednesday 25th of March.
Kieran never had any doubts about the ability of the team to pivot to meet the demand for scrubs. He commented: “I am so proud of our team, the values we live by in O’Neills are loyalty, flexibility, commitment and passion and it’s these values that are driving the team through their greatest ever challenge”.
Since news of O’Neills new product has gone global they have been inundated with enquiries from health professionals across Ireland, the UK and further afield. Kieran commented “I would love to be able to help everyone, but we are fully committed with the orders we have for the next 5 weeks. He stressed “we will keep producing scrubs while this need exists”.
Lastly, Kieran said: “This is an international emergency, we are doing all we can to help and we have been working with a small number of other businesses who are stepping up to assist the healthcare sector by adapting their manufacturing processes to make PPE. The innovation and drive of indigenous SME’s is inspiring, and I will do everything I can to support them”.