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Box Clever

For the past twenty years, Progress Packaging have been bringing beautifully designed packaging to life, working with an impressive roster of leading design studios. In today’s Industry People, we catch up with founder Simon Farrow to find out more…

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Packaging range for Rapha Performance Footwear

Tell us what you do at Progress Packaging—what’s the company history and how did you develop your way of working?
Progress was established in 1997, born from my own personal experience in providing packaging to the fashion industries, and a frustration at the lack of creative thinking from manufacturers when dealing with design-based enquiries.
Most factories concentrated on the need to fill production space, and that rigid approach to creative manufacturing meant that most projects failed to take off at their initial stages. Progress’ outlook from day one has been to look at each project as an individual challenge—to take a different route instead of the straight road ahead, using our large network of international suppliers. Although we were initially reactive to designer’s briefs, for the last fifteen years, we have become  proactive in bringing the very best of manufacturing and materials to the marketplace.
What’s your own professional background?
Before setting up Progress Packaging, I was working for a variety of large, flexible packaging manufacturers. This gave me experience in a variety of print processes, from flexographic print to gravure, while also allowing me to research and develop new materials.

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Hard Graft retail carrier bags with cord handles and foil blocking

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Hard Graft retail carrier bag

Describe a typical working day…
It might sound like a bit of a cliché, but there isn’t really a typical working day in the Progress office. Every day seems to bring both fresh challenges and rewards. Our customer base is so diverse, from agencies through to luxury retail brands, so the briefs we receive are a constant surprise. The days start early, as we now manufacture 40% of our goods on our production lines in China. This enables us to get ahead of delivery schedules and costings before our clients get to work and need the information.
What kind of clients do you work with at Progress?
They vary from design and advertising agencies, internet start-up businesses and small organisations, right through to global, well-recognised brands. All of these are equally exciting and rewarding. For example, we have recently worked with the designers at EACH London on the launch of a new luxury fashion range called Siran. This required us to deliver their retail packaging, as well as take care of their e-commerce needs, covering the full range of their business needs. We are also continually working with clients like Rapha on the launch of their new products and latest ranges. Recently we have partnered with them to change the papers they use across the full range of their packaging, making it compliment their materials  and switching from detailed papers to a rubber touch effect. This has involved coordinating paper stocks globally throughout various factories. In summary, there isn’t any one corner of the market that we target. Whether big or small, well-known or in development stages, our range of clients is as broad as it is long.

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Rapha sunglasses tin

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Siran blind-embossed retail bag with metallic packing paper

You just launched a new website, designed by Design Project. What were your main objectives for the new site, and how did it all come together?
Over the last few years, we have been working more in luxury retail, helping brands grow either with the help of their in-house design teams, or through an external design agency of their choosing. This has meant that our approach to packaging design and production has to reflect both a creative outlook, as well as a professional business approach to manufacturing. With our new site, we are trying to connect with every market, maintaining our creativity while offering the business information that buyers need. We have adopted a much bolder graphic approach to accentuate individual projects, and we also have an archive of previous work for SEO optimisation. It’s important to us that all of our work is on display for everyone to see, so even the projects that aren’t case studies can still be found, researched, and used as inspiration for any designer or buyer that may look at our site.
Previously, we had a website and a blog, but the new WordPress format allows us to combine the two, meaning the site will constantly be updated as the old blog used to be, but still have the professional face and information that the old website delivered. We aim to continually update with case studies, moving images, and regular production pieces, forming a one-stop editorial feed for everyone. Finally, we are working on adding a full logistics portal where our clients can customise and, along with us, manage their stock and shipments. We hope the new look of the website delivers functionality, while staying true to our design roots and looking great.
Has your job changed much in the last few years?
The role in general has stayed very similar, but the markets we work with and the products manufactured have definitely changed. The creative process and production techniques haven’t altered too much, but while some product areas grow, others have fallen away. One change we saw after the financial crisis was that a lot of designers—who in previous years may have set up studios—worked on a freelance basis and were quite transient. The relative recent stability of the economy in the last couple of years has shown a healthy and exciting growth in young agencies, who are now keen to push the boundaries across all aspects of design and production.

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Tom Dixon five colour screen printed tote bags

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Kraft and gloss paper wrapped boxes with foil embossing, for Victoria Beckham

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Detail of a Hardy Amies retail bag with grosgrain ribbon handles

What’s the most challenging part of the job for you?
Budgets and deadlines continue to be as challenging as ever. We are constantly trying to meet cost expectations, which has been particularly hard with the exchange rate decline on the pound since Brexit. Whilst, where possible, we try to help our clients plan ahead, there will always be last minute rush jobs that we do our best to fulfil. In taking these on, we try to be realistic with our production capabilities and timings, but we do everything we can to deliver an on time solution where possible. Our main frustration is in trying to deliver a project where a client has a pre-existing idea on a project that realistically cannot be achieved within their budget or their time limits. For this reason, where possible, we try to be involved from the start to make sure we can provide suitable solutions and/or alternatives.
And what’s the most enjoyable?
The most enjoyable part is seeing the end result, especially when we have followed the project through from concept stage with the designers, right through to delivery of the finished piece. This can be a quick process on occasion, but more often than not the time invested can span weeks, if not months, depending on the extent of our involvement with material and product testing. Where we are able to input and combine ideas and inspiration, we feel we’re at our very best.

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Foil blocked perfume box for Miller Harris

Have you noticed any recent trends in the types of packaging you are working on?

Perhaps the most noticeable trend for us over the last few years has been the decline in packaging for multimedia, staff handbooks, and corporate literature. The huge rise of the Internet has meant that many items that were traditionally delivered in physical form are now delivered online. This market still exists, but on a much smaller scale—perhaps on limited editions or highly targeted pieces.

Ecommerce packaging is a huge growth area; whether with start up companies or existing ones who are extending their offerings, many of our clients are now looking to deliver functional yet enticing solutions. Along with these challenges delivered by modern business, we have seen an equal trend towards both crafted products, and, of course, anything that offers an environmentally friendly solution or less wastage. Processes such as foil blocking and screen-printing are as popular as ever, leading the way in the way people are choosing to brand their products.
If you weren’t working in the world of packaging, what would you be doing?
Having not connected a love of record sleeve design in the 80s to a career in design, Progress has been a great outlet for me to combine a lifetime of packaging experience with a creative everyday challenge. However, given the opportunity to turn back the clock, the architecture of modern Britain fascinates me and is something I can imagine I would have loved to have been involved with.

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Packaging box system for Rebus

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Foiled kraft retail bags for Celestine Eleven

Tell us about a recent project you really enjoyed working on…
We have recently worked alongside the new, Amsterdam-based perfumer, Abel, whose goal is to create the world’s best natural perfume. Progress were involved from concept stage and were able to advise on the best ways to match the brand’s identity to the packaging they were putting out on the shelves. Tying everything in with the company ethos of working with natural elements, it made sense for us to cover the boxes using an uncoated paper, and seal the print rather than laminate it. The print specification was split equally over five designs to match the five fragrances that were being released. These included White Vetiver, Golder Neroli, Red Santal, Cobalt Amber, and Grey Laburnum. This meant that we could colour match the shoulder pieces of each box to give each scent its own identity, making it easily recognisable. There were lots of different elements to this project, including the print and the spot UV for branding, as well as the white foam inserts to hold the bottles in place. It’s always exciting for us to work on a project from start to finish, especially one that is launching a fantastic brand out into the world. Knowing we were there from concept stage and oversaw the job right through to international delivery—it’s what we enjoy being a part of the most.
What are your ambitions for the coming year?

We are looking, as ever, to grow the business and expand our areas of expertise. The retail sector is something we love being a part of, and connecting with more fashion labels and international brands is definitely something we are looking forward to. In order to do this, we are spending a lot of time focusing on streamlining logistics systems to ensure we are both competitive and offer a clear plan for our clients. While this is on going, so is our constant search for new materials, processes, and formats that we can offer our clients in their effort to stay ahead of the competition.


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Progress HQ in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

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