Paul Bristow Associates is first and foremost a family business run by people who care about and excel at what they do. The company itself has changed its identity throughout the years, but has come to be known as the market leader in textile souvenir manufacturing for the arts and culture industry.
The company was first launched in 1985, on the kitchen table of a modest flat in Tulse Hill, London. Paul Bristow was a print lecturer at Ravensbourne College and together textile design and rug weaver Maggie Bristow, they launched their legacy. Their big break came hand-making t-shirts for the hugely popular political satire Spitting Image.
The Spitting Image profits allowed the company to move to Metropolitan Wharf, Wapping in 1986, where business flourished. The inaugural brand, Tim Shirts, were designs created by Paul in collaboration with his print students. These were all hand screen printed. This evolved and became the brand Paul Bristow, which was sold globally with success in Europe, Japan, the Middle East and America. The designs were inherently British, having been sourced from UK designers who emanated from all walks of life, giving the brand a fantastically diverse feel.
Through the printing of their initial designs, Paul Bristow Associates earned industry acclaim for their unique abilities in screen printing. This blossoming reputation meant they were noticed by large companies such as Fruit of The Loom, Champion, Manchester United, English Heritage and Principles who all commissioned Paul Bristow Associates to print t-shirts for them – English Heritage continue to be one of their biggest accounts.
Success was hard earned and in 1993 it became apparent that the company had outgrown its premises in London. It was time to scale up and the business was relocated to large, modern factory in Wrexham, North Wales. The company continued to thrive at these facilities for several years, but like every business it has had challenges to overcome. The global market was competitive and competing with the cheaper costs of labour that could be offered elsewhere was a challenge. This was a pivotal point in the company’s history, it required Paul and Maggie to think outside the box and to diversify their offering.
Paul and Maggie teamed up with a designer who was launching a lingerie brand called Muse. Unusual as this may seem, it had a certain symbiosis with their skills. The brand garnered some success in Japan and on the UK high street in stores such as Urban Outfitters. However, once again it became a challenge to compete with the cheaper labour costs that could be offered overseas. This was the company’s first taste of sewing their own products here in the UK, something that has now become one of their greatest strengths and is a perfect complement to the printing abilities they already had.
At this point, Maggie and Paul decided to use all they had learned throughout the years of running the company and go back to what they truly understood – Art. The first ‘Paul Bristow’ bag that the company made was for the Royal Academy. After the success of that they launched head first into the industry with other galleries such as Saatchi, Tate and cultural sites like Kew Gardens. For several years, the company continued in this way, thriving and carving out a niche in the market, They got to work on products and designs that excited and challenged them.