There are many facets to Suleman Gaffar’s embellishments business Packtex, as Images discovers

As their name suggests, the original rhinestones were made from sparkling rock crystals from the river Rhine in Austria in the Middle Ages, but by the time country singer Glen Campbell sang that he was “like a rhinestone cowboy” in the 1970s, they had become a fashion staple made from any kind of crystal glass, an affordable accessory with the glistening appeal of diamonds. These shiny accessories caught the attention of Suleman Gaffar nearly 20 years ago and, through his company Packtex, he has become the leading wholesale supplier of not just rhinestones but many other kinds of embellishments for garment decoration, from sequins and glitter to beads and other trimmings.

But the name Packtex reflects the company’s somewhat less glittering roots. Based in Leicester, it was founded in 1999 by Suleman, who still heads the company, with his brother Mahomed, who is no longer involved, to supply packaging to the textile trade. The new business drew on the brothers’ backgrounds in family-run businesses in the fashion and textile trade, buying and selling clothing. They spotted a gap in the market for supplying trimmings and embellishments to decorators and, by 2002, this had become the focus of the business. “The margins became tighter and tighter in packaging and competition was fierce so we had to change direction,” Suleman recalls. “We found trimming and embellishments more profitable and a lot more design-oriented than packaging.”

With a portfolio now ranging from rhinestones, rhinestuds and Swarovski cut crystals to caviar beads, sequins and glitter powders, the business has steadily grown its sales across the UK and overseas, and now employs 15 people, including in-house designers and a sourcing team. “The business continues to operate from its original premises but over the years this has been converted from a primarily warehousing function to a full manufacturing role,” Suleman says. Most of Packtex’s rhinestones and other embellishments are for the retail fashion sector, and are mainly supplied as hot-fix transfers. 

Driven by design trends, the company offers all kinds of colours and sizes from stock, such as the Grade A Rhinestones ranging from 2mm to 8.5mm in more than 25 shades, and the Diamante Machine Cut Rhinestones, in over 20 colours, which typically have 12 facets providing a more dazzling shine.

For a premium finish, the Swarovski Elements selection – from jewellery specialist Swarovski – is made from cut crystals, with faceting and polishing to provide extra brilliance. These crystals are supplied both for hot-fix heat applications as well as glue-fix crystals.

The DTG side of Packtex’s business is growing rapidly, reports Suleman

Packtex’s glitter powder is made of precision-cut metallised hexagon polyester flakes, with over 45 shades available in various finishes including metallic, holographic and iridescent. Its tiny caviar beads are also popular for textile printing, and are available in over 20 colours. The company also supplies its sequins and discs (sequins without the hole) in a wide selection of colours from stock, from peacock holographic to pink iridescent. However, thanks to its in-house designers, Packtex is able to manufacture other colours and sizes of embellishments to order based on a minimum order quantity. “We have had an in-house design team for six years,” Suleman explains. “Not only do they design for our ecommerce business but they also control any adjustments to clients’ artwork that is submitted for our B2B work.”

Packtex’s range of embellishments includes caviar beads and glitter powders

Packtex supplies its sequins and discs (sequins without the hole) in a wide selection of colours

The company also stocks rhinestones, rhinestuds and Swarovski cut crystals

Fashion trends

Packtex’s consumer-facing ecommerce business operates under the name of Twisted Envy. It was set up seven years ago and offers more than 5,000 unique garment designs. The design team also creates artwork for unique iron-on rhinestone transfers according to briefs from customers for both retail and promotional purposes. The set-up at Beal Street in Leicester gives it a production capacity of up to a million transfers a week. “Following the up-and-coming catwalk and fashion trends ensures our designs regularly make their way into some of the biggest high-street stores, including River Island, New Look and Asos,” says Suleman. The company also has a sourcing team that will search for any trims that a customer wants to apply to a garment.

Many Packtex products are also used extensively in the nail art industry, in the arts and crafts sector, by greetings card manufacturers and by individual hobbyists. However, most of its business remains B2B for fashion retail, hence the reason that Packtex is constantly keeping an eye on what is happening in the market. “Fashion trends come and go over the years. What was popular last year is not the case this year. Embellishments are dictated to a large extent by what is happening on the catwalk. The company has to react to what is required and to be able to source and supply the current trend in the timescale required.”

After nearly 20 years, Suleman has seen trends repeating themselves on numerous occasions. “We are currently working on our 2020 range, which seems to be heavily concentrated on beaded and delicate trims for the major high-street stores. We are constantly looking at new products and new techniques that would help us gain new business in what is a very competitive marketplace. The retail fashion industry is undergoing huge changes into how it operates and brings its products to market. We have been supplying this sector for the past 20 years, and being able to quickly react to these changes has been one of our strong points.”

The Leicester-based company invested in a Kornit Avalanche HD6 earlier this year

A new digital direction

Packtex went in another new direction when it moved into digital printing on garments about six years ago to support its ecommerce business. Suleman comments: “Digital garment printing is probably the biggest change that has taken place in garment decoration over the past few years. Competing with screen printers and bulk printing on polyester was unheard of two years ago. With the development of new technology and reduced ink costs, DTG textile decorating will be at the forefront of this industry for the foreseeable future.” However, Suleman adds that the two sides of Packtex’s business are not always mutually exclusive. “We do have clients who require both printed and embellishments on the same garment,” he adds. The company’s has most recently invested more than £300,000 in a Kornit Avalanche HD6 digital printer, through Adelco – to replace some of its older Kornit printers – plus a new Adelco Pro-Cure dryer; both were installed in April. 

It also has a Kornit Storm DTG printer and four Epson F2100 DTG printers. “The DTG side of our business is growing rapidly, with clients spread across the retail, licensing and promotional sectors,” Suleman says.

While the industry continues to find developing environmentally friendly transfers a challenge, Packtex does what it can in terms of sustainability by ensuring that all its inks comply with Oeko-Tex quality standards, while also offering organic and recycled garments if requested.

Packtex can create unique transfer designs for customers

While the company has diversified into digital print, and beads and delicate trims are all the rage for 2020, rhinestones (its core business) remain as popular as ever – from high-street fashions to hen-do tees. “We believe the outlook is good for both embellishments and DTG printing, especially in the B2B market,” Suleman adds. “Online fashion retailers will continue to expand, and Packtex will continue to be a leading supplier to them in the coming years as we are geared up to produce small, quality runs with fast turnaround times.” With Bruce Springsteen releasing a new version of Rhinestone Cowboy this year to tie in with his film Western Stars, Packtex’s rhinestones and other embellishments show no sign of losing their shine.