International Women’s Day, which takes place on 8 March every year, is a time to celebrate women’s achievements. We talk to three women in the industry about their work experiences

On average, women in the UK work for two months free each year as a result of the gender pay gap, are much less likely to be in senior roles in business and, according to a UN report last year, nearly 50% of men globally thought they had more right to a job than a women. It is important, therefore, to use International Women’s Day on 8 March to highlight just some of the women running successful garment decoration businesses in our industry and hold them up as role models for others looking to break into print and embroidery.

More accessible

Christine Heath has been trading at Printzone for four years, however she has a much longer history within the garment decoration industry, having worked in customer services at apparel manufacturer Stedman/Hanes for 25 years. She specialises in sublimation printing, but also uses vinyl and transfers. The majority of her customers are local artists and photographers.

“In the past, the printing industry had a very blue-collar occupation appearance, with messy screen prints and a factory environment. Advances in equipment technology make it more compact and give us the freedom and endless opportunities to be creative. We are artists in ourselves and as a woman this very much drew me to this business,” she explains.

The sector has changed a lot since she first started working in it, she notes.

Christine Heath says garment decoration is “a great business to get involved in”

“Clothing from the wholesalers is second to none, with such a wide choice of retail-quality products. I feel technology has opened the market up, improving the quality and options for print work. The print business has become a lot more accessible for women and particularly the homeworker.”

She doesn’t see any barriers to women wanting to work in the industry, stating: “I firmly believe if you have a good work ethic, female or male, you can succeed in this business.” To increase the number of women working as printers, a traditionally male-dominated area, she suggests that printing needs to be publicised more. “Maybe advertising to different target audiences, for example the crafting market, is one way to do this.”

Christine says she loves her local women’s network groups. “I have found them very inspiring and also a great source of business. They are not wholly for printers, but as small business owners we often have common issues. I also make use of Facebook groups for printing, where you can share problems and there are plenty of people to advise and help solve them.”

Her advice to women thinking of starting up in this industry is straightforward and optimistic: “I think it’s a great business to get involved in. Just think about what direction you want to take. There are many forms of printing so do your homework on these. Look around your area and see where there is a gap in the market. I won’t say that the skill set is easy to build – there is a lot of learning and many mistakes to be made! There is also a lot of support among the printing community, whether it be verbal or online.” The machine and consumable suppliers are also very helpful, she adds.

International Women’s Day is an important day that is “a great celebration of women’s achievements, whilst also highlighting inequality and the many injustices against women around the world”, says Christine.

Christine of Printzone worked at Stedman/Hanes for 25 years

Elizabeths Embroidery was set up in 1990

Role models

Lisa Halligan is the owner of Elizabeths Embroidery, a family-run embroidery, print and alteration business in Stockton-on-Tees that was set up 30 years ago by her mother and currently has 15 employees. Ninety percent of its work comes from the schoolwear sector, and Lisa has continued to recruit throughout the pandemic, as well as expanding its high street retail store.

In 1990, when the business started, Lisa says there were very few embroiderers and garment printers around, but advancements in technology have made it relatively easy to set up a business these days, creating a more diverse marketplace. She recalls a “daunting” business meeting in her early 20s that was full of middle-aged men in suits. “I felt so out of my comfort zone, but I didn’t let that put me off! Luckily, a lot has changed in 20 years. However, more can always be done to encourage women to find their vocation. As a woman running a company, I would be very happy to mentor other aspiring business people and help them achieve their full potential.”

Lisa’s own mother – who she says is a caregiver, a perfectionist and a workaholic – has been a great business role model for her.

Lisa Halligan would be happy to mentor aspiring business people

“She knows how to multi-task, and takes pride in everything she does. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’m sure many women can take a lot from that.”

Another influential person for Lisa is Carri Nicholson, the ‘Leader Whisperer’, who she says “has been an amazing mentor to me, however I feel that anybody you speak to in business or otherwise can inspire you and give you invaluable life lessons that you can bring into your business.”

The biggest barrier to women joining the schoolwear side of the industry is for those with children, notes Lisa. “The summer time is our peak period, and I do not get much chance to spend time with my children during those weeks. This is definitely a hard time of year to balance family and business, but I can say we definitely make up for the missed family time throughout the rest of the year, especially at Christmas!”

Do what you enjoy

Mandy Short owns Parallel Prints in Glasgow, where she hand-prints garments, totes and other items. She started in the industry in 2014, and says there is definitely a need for more women in screen printing.

“Women contribute a great deal to any industry, but in screen printing, I believe women bring their own unique qualities and help towards making the industry more accessible to everyone,” she says.

“The only way to increase numbers is to start with education in schools. Creative subjects are never given the importance like academic subjects are.”

Mandy Short with her print shop pooch, Stella

Screen printing is, she believes, still very much a male-dominated industry. “This might prevent some women from wanting to learn the trade,” she points out. Another potential barrier Mandy highlights is that women make up the majority of home carers – as screen printing is not an easy business to run from home because of the space and equipment needed (unlike, perhaps, embroidery), this may also deter some women from setting up.

One of the biggest problems she’s faced as a woman in screen printing – and one that emphasises the continued need for events such as International Women’s Day – is being taken seriously. “It’s something I’m always dealing with at some time or other, either with customers or suppliers.”

It’s a problem faced by women across most sectors, which is why listening and talking to other female business owners can be so helpful, as well as inspiring. In addition to following and reading on social media and in publications about other women running businesses, Mandy also listens to podcasts run by female entrepreneurs.

As for whether International Women’s Day is important, she is emphatic in her response. “Definitely! It’s important for women to be recognised for their achievements, successes, and to inspire other women and girls.” Her final advice is to other women thinking of becoming a screen printer: “Just go for it! Do what you enjoy.”