Mayo weighted blanket company, Kocoono, has announced its decision to use Northern Ireland as a base to meet growing UK demand.
Emer Flannery (31 ), started running her own business, Kocoono, selling weighted blankets to help alleviate stress, anxiety, insomnia and other sleep-related disorders in her hometown of Belmullet, in Co, Mayo.
She learned sewing thanks to her mum Maureen, a talented dressmaker, who in the early stages of the company, supported the production of every Kocoono Weighted Blanket. One and a half years since the initial launch, Kocoono has shipped to more than 10 countries and has seen a growing demand from the UK.
Emer said the Brexit transition uncertainty stopped her from launching Kocoono in the UK earlier, but she has since taken the challenge and worked to put the infrastructure in place. "To meet growing UK demand post-Brexit, the logical step was to establish ourselves with a fulfilment centre in NI. Goods can continue trading across the Irish border - as it was before Brexit. So, this makes Northern Ireland an excellent business base for serving NI & UK consumers.
"Our new partnership with the fulfilment centre in NI will help us to grow and ensure fast shipping to our UK customers, but at the same time we will retain Galway as the main location to meet the needs of our Irish customers," assured Emer.
Gavin Curtis, director of eParcels fulfilment centre in Northern Ireland, said: "We are very excited to be working in a new partnership with Kocoono to handle their stock and delivery logistics.
"EParcels has seen a massive growth of ROI based companies interested in shipping their products from N Ireland post-Brexit. Customers can access both the UK and EU markets with greatly reduced logistical and export costs. We look forward to supporting the growth of Kocoono and helping them access new sales markets."
Emer said she is confident the relationship can benefit both business partners, saying: "The rise of anxiety since the pandemic began has contributed to increased demand for them. But Kocoono Weighted Blankets have several unique features, which has led to the growth in demand from NI and UK consumers. Each Kocoono is customisable, handmade, ethically and sustainably produced, and has been a very popular gift since the pandemic began."
Launching a weighted blanket in the summer may sound challenging, but Emer said Kocoono works well in warmer weather too: "The Kocoono Luxe version has removable inner weighted bands which you can place in the freezer for a cooling effect. No other weighted blanket on the market offers this feature.
"Also, all our Kocoono Weighted Blankets have 100% cotton on one side, which is extra-breathable. They are filled with glass beads instead of plastic, which help you regulate your body temperature. A new fully cotton version is also coming soon."
Emer encourages other Irish companies to enter the UK and not be stopped by the post-Brexit era and to seek advice for putting the structures in place.
She said she has felt welcomed in Northern Ireland in her new venture every step of the way. She got advice from Newry-based InterTradeIreland, which helps small businesses across the island explore new cross-border markets. Emer explained: "They offered excellent training and advice on all aspects of customs, global trade and supply chain. This has guided Kocoono through the process of preparing our supply chains for post-Brexit trading."
Emer assured that despite the growth, she is really close to every step of the production to ensure the quality and the handmade process of each Kocoono: "We have grown, but we are fortunate that we still design and produce all prototypes in Belmullet, Mayo; we tweak these before liaising with our manufacturers to finalise the production run," she said.
Emer wanted to keep the production in Ireland, but due to the high demand and the fact that the manufacturing sector has declined in Ireland, she moved the production to Poland and Bulgaria, where traditional sewing skills are still available, and the work conditions are ethical.
"It took time to find a manufacturer that made our Kocoono with the love and handmade process that my mum and I put in every Kocoono.
"When we started, we ordered an industrial sewing machine and converted a bedroom into a sewing room and were often up until the wee hours finishing production.
"It is extremely labour intensive to make one Kocoono at a time, hence why we can do this on a larger scale by partnering with a manufacturing company that still uses the traditional sewing skills and has the ability to hand-make our Kocoono blankets."
Emer is immensely grateful for all the support received from her Irish customers from the very first moment: "They made Kocoono the success it is today. Since launching, we have had inquiries from Irish people who live in Japan, Germany, France, and the UK who want to buy Irish goods. During the pandemic, we have had many calls from people who wanted to buy a Kocoono for a family member to comfort them using Kocoono.
"Many of these people have gotten back to me, giving thanks and sharing their experience about how Kocoono has changed their loved one's lives. It is really gratifying, and all these stories inspire us to keep working hard and growing to new horizons."