At first glance you might not expect a company based in Altham, Lancashire to be engaged in a Joint Venture with one of China’s leading companies, but that’s exactly what Soyang Europe has been since 2005.
“Soyang Group is China’s leading manufacturer and supplier of functional textiles,” explains Mark Mashiter, the managing director of Soyang Europe. “Having previously worked with Soyang Group I was approached by the Chinese office back in 2005 to see if I was interested in becoming operations director for a new European expansion. We ended up taking things quite a bit further and establishing a warehousing and distribution facility here in the UK!”
That was almost 17 years ago, fast forward to 2021 and the operation has been so successful that Soyang Europe has now outgrown its premises twice in the UK. “We’ve been instrumental in the growth of Soyang Group,” the managing director explains. “Frankly I think Europe has the most demanding market in the world and, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It’s the European market that has driven the innovations we’ve seen when it comes to non-PVC materials and the growth in textiles.
“Over the years we’ve grown from needing one production machine to taking products from six separate production lines. We’ve moved from a rented premises to owning facilities with 70,000sqft of space and able to hold 1.5million square metres of stock.”
All of this means that the company can offer a wide range of support to the digital printing industry. Mark Mashiter states: “We’ll work with anyone with a digital printer, not just large-format printers. We have customers who have one machine and others who run entire fleets. We work with companies using Mimaki printers, Roland machines, Latex technology, we operate across the entire spectrum.
“I think people have this perception that we only deal with the really big printers, and we do work with the majority of big names in the large-format sector, but as the market matures and people get to know more about us then I hope those smaller printers who are only after five rolls or less will start to come direct to us.
“We’re very applications focused, meaning that we don’t just hard sell to our customers. There’s no point in simply supplying someone with some cheap banner material when they need a properly coated alternative. You have to consider what they need and what products will help them to get the job done.”
Of course, the market is very different to seventeen years ago, as Mark notes: “In those early days PVC banner material was our DNA, but as the industry has evolved, we’ve evolved with it, embracing textile materials. These are often printed using dye sublimation technology, so we’ve had a lot to learn but we’ve managed it well. We’re vertically integrated when it comes to manufacturing and it doesn’t get any better than that when it comes to production.”
Another trend that Soyang Europe is on top of is sustainability. “We produce as green as possible,” says Mark. “This means using solar and wind turbines to power our factory and, when it comes to our products, it means materials made from recycled yarns and PET bottle materials and banner materials that are non-PVC, using PA acrylic coatings instead.”
Mark Mashiter says this eco-conscious revolution is being driven by the end user. “It’s our customers’ customers,” he expands. “They’re the ones moving the industry. The recent COP26 event in Glasgow highlighted once again that the public is quite anti-PVC and nervous around packaging.
“We have a responsibility to adjust our production to make sure we can offer viable alternatives. It’s not always easy of course, there are challenges in making sure that products print to the same standard and that they fabricate as well. We’re fortunate in having such a big team developing materials that really do the job!’
Naturally a lot of this work is done in China, which means that Soyang Europe has to keep supply chains at the forefront of its thinking. Something has been especially true over the course of the last couple of years.
There were of course issues over the pandemic period. The number of ships travelling between China and Europe plummeted, with prices skyrocketing as a result. Soyang survived the trauma, however, as it moved quickly to ensure that it had large stocks available.
“We made sure we had enough on hand to fulfil our customer’s needs. Since then, we’ve just been topping up when it becomes necessary. I’m confident that every single one of our customers would say that we traversed the period without any supply chain issues and we don’t anticipate any in the future.”
Mark sees these sorts of issues as, fingers crossed, a thing of the past. It’s sustainability that he wants to focus on in 2022. “I think over the next 12 months we’re going to look to consolidate on what we’re doing already. That includes our textiles ranges, introducing recycled yarn ranges, focusing on the non-PVC banner materials and mesh materials for building wraps as well as other products that can be more easily recycled.”
Given the success the company has enjoyed since 2005, you wouldn’t bet against Soyang Europe bringing its sustainable products to the entire digital printing space in the years to come.