Gill Eastgate runs NKD Design, a thriving company with a distinctly different approach to company image. NKD design and supply staff uniforms for a large range of companies and specialise in the hospitality sector, providing clothing for the likes of Malmaison.
Gill started her career studying textiles in Gallowshields, the heart of the Borders textile industry, and took a BSc in clothing. The degree included learning skills in fabric manufacture and production and contained a large business element. From college Gill worked for a company who made jackets for Marks and Spencer and later with John Lewis in the fabric department.
Having had excellent training and experience in fabrics and manufacturing Gill wanted to increase her business acumen and went to Napier University to take a post graduate qualification in business and IT, specialising in marketing.
With these additional skills Gill took a job in direct marketing and for 4-5 years worked as an account manager for major clients, such as HBOS and the Scottish Rugby Union, acting as the contact between the client and the outsourced IT company. With restructuring within the financial sector procurement was moved offshore and it was time to for change and Gill left and joined Kay Davidson.
Gill and Kay worked very closely together until in 2005 Gill decided to go it alone and bought the business from Kay and NKD was born.
“How people look and feel in a garment is very important and I want to make sure that people who work for my clients, wearing uniforms NKD have designed, present the best possible image. If you go into a restaurant, for example, the waiting staff should be clean and smart and look comfortable in what they are wearing. If these three things are right they will present a good image to customers and enhance the client experience. If they are scruffy then they will convey a poor image not only of themselves but of the restaurant as a whole.”
Malmaison were the first client. At that time they had seven properties and wanted consistency across them all. When Malmaison bought Hotel Du Vin that opened opportunities there and also into the larger De Veer group. At this point Gill realised that in order to support a growing business it needed to move from Stirling to be nearer her home in Edinburgh so in 2007 NKD relocated to the current office and warehouse space in Canonmills.
The business has continued to grow, winning awards along the way, and now employs 8 staff.
“I want NKD to become the Nike of staff uniforms – a brand synonymous with what we do so that whenever anyone thinks uniforms they think NKD.”
“A key moment was the appointment of Rav Singh as non-executive director. He has brought a huge amount of experience and skill to the business, particularly on the financial side.”
NKD’s clients are mainly in the UK but with overseas enquiries growing Gill is hoping to expand into export markets.
“The UK is known for fashion and this is translating into enquiries for uniforms where overseas clients are looking for something more stylish than they can find in their own countries.”
Where possible NKD have garments made in the UK.
“When buying uniforms the orders are often small and specialist, with lots of different shapes and sizes to cater for in the order, rather than being large single orders. Since this is the case we cannot really take advantage of cheaper overseas prices as, for example, a minimum order to have garments manufactured in China would typically be 1,000 pieces. More importantly if manufacture is overseas you have a more “hands off” process which doesn’t really suit our commitment to quality and attention to detail.”
“We also specify and manufacture specialist cloth for clients, in order to get unique colours and patterns for the uniforms. For example we get cloth for shirts manufactured specially for us in France and use a weaver in Wolverhampton for a number of different cloths.”
“When we work with a client everyone wants something different. We come up with a few designs and present those through mood boards. Once a design is chosen we work very closely with the staff who will actually be wearing the uniforms to make sure that every one is a good fit. Feeling comfortable and confident in what they are wearing can make a huge difference to the way they approach their job and to the image they project to their customers. We also have to be aware that women will tend to under state the size they are while men will tent to exaggerate their height and chest measurements, so working with individuals makes a big difference to the final outcome.”
“Finally all of the uniforms are boxed individually so each member of staff has their own uniform delivered rather than just selecting the right size from a bulk order. Once again the attention to the individual is hugely important and makes a big difference to the way the uniform is perceived and accepted by staff.”
It was great to meet with Gill and to hear of a business that is growing without compromising the high standards that they have set themselves.