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Rowlinson Knitwear puts resilience through COVID down to employee ownership

The Rowlinson Knitwear team with Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester

B Corp schoolwear manufacturer, Rowlinson Knitwear, has put its business resilience throughout the pandemic down to being employee-owned. This announcement has been made to coincide with Employee Ownership Day (25 June 2021), an annual celebration of employee-owned businesses.

“COVID-19 presented all businesses with immense challenges” says Donald Moore, chair of Rowlinson Knitwear. “However I’m confident that Rowlinson would not have navigated the crisis so well if we hadn’t been employee-owned.”

All colleagues have been co-owners of Manchester-based Rowlinson since 2015 and the impacts have been significant with profits, customer satisfaction and colleague engagement all increasing. Since the start of the pandemic, Rowlinson has been able to maintain production capacity and both colleague and customer satisfaction is at an all-time high.

Moore says, “As an employee-owned business, we understand the importance of putting people first and this approach has created a really strong business foundation. During such a difficult and unpredictable episode in our business history, there’s no clearer testament to how strong our employee ownership culture is than how we’ve come through it. By maintaining our culture of care, both in the UK and at our overseas supplier factories, our people are motivated to perform at their best and come together for the collective good of the company.”

Rowlinson has led with care during the pandemic, ensuring its people have been at the heart of its decision-making. This includes paying all furloughed staff 90 per cent of their usual pay and ensuring all those forced to self-isolate were paid in full. To achieve this, the higher paid agreed to a wage cut to support the lower paid and vulnerable. Businesses with a strong social conscience, such as employee-owned organisations, can more easily go down this route without objection.

The company also prioritised mental health, training employees in mental health matters so they have been able to provide emotional support and practical advice. Ongoing activities to help combat isolation were introduced, including online coffee mornings and virtual quizzes, proving an important support network for many colleagues.

And when some businesses started selling facemasks to their customers and expecting employees to have their own, Rowlinson gave them away free of charge. All colleagues in the UK and in the overseas supply chain were provided with facemasks, with 250,000 masks provided to customers, and 50,000 free masks supplied to those in need in the local community.

“Being an employee-owned company makes everyone want to help and support one another and this is reflected in everything we do”, says Moore. “People and planet will always come first and profit last. The result is that we have a highly motivated and resilient team, so when a crisis hits we find great strength in finding our way through it.”

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