Scotland business

Edinburgh firm Morphsuits stretches global reach

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Media captionBusiness success beckons for Scottish 'morphsuit' entrepreneurs who are making money running their business from their flat

Three young Scottish entrepreneurs have taken the fancy dress market by storm - thanks to a costume made of polyester and Lycra.

Two years ago, brothers Ali and Fraser Smeaton and flatmate Gregor Lawson launched all-in-one, stretchy, figure-hugging outfits called morphsuits.

Since then, sales have rocketed - and they expect to rake in more than £10m this year.

Morphsuits now appear to be turning into a global phenomenon.

The Edinburgh-based company already has more than 700,000 Facebook followers, which they say is more than Nestle, Guinness and Toyota.

The morphsuit enterprise counters recent academic research evidence that Scotland lacks entrepreneurs, particularly among people in their early thirties.

Rugby test

The trio gave up marketing and banking jobs in blue chip companies to develop the morphsuit after noticing the impact someone had at a party when he turned up in a figure-hugging, colourful costume.

They had 250 printed on polyester and Lycra to test the response at a rugby event, and quickly found the products selling out.

Ali said: "When we started off, the morphsuits were plain colours like red, blue and black.

"Then we launched a range of flags and now we have individual characters like mummies, ninjas and zombies etc.

"You can see through them and drink through them and they basically make a party awesome."

In the first year, they did £1.2m of business, while holding down their day jobs. Going full-time and operating on a shoestring from the front room of a small Edinburgh flat, they pushed sales up to £4.5m in 2010-11.

This year, they landed an initial order of 100,000 morphsuits from Party City, a 2000-outlet American retail chain. And in the financial year starting last month, the three company directors expect revenue to soar to £10.5m.

Gregor commented: "We have a huge amount of ambition. Over the past year-on-year we have been growing by 300% - and we want to grow by another 300% in this year.

"We believe we have the tools to do that, both with going into new markets, new types of suits and new countries."

Facebook friends

Their success is an example of what can be done marketing through Facebook, creating a community which has just passed 700,000 Facebook friends, leaving little need for an advertising or marketing budget.

And by outsourcing almost everything they do - including Chinese manufacturing, warehousing in the UK, US and Australia, and a customer contact centre in Fife - they are growing the business with no employees at all.

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Image caption Halloween is the company's most important time of the year

The company hopes to make the most of Halloween this year, after missing out on earlier opportunities.

Ali explained: "Halloween is the most important time of the year - we learnt that lesson the hard way.

"In the first year we launched, we thought there would be a small increase in sales but it was a 500% increase.

"Then we went to America last year and we thought we would plan for a 500% increase in sales. But because Halloween is so much bigger and so much longer in America, it was about a 1,500% increase."

He added: "We now know what are doing and we are well prepared for our third Halloween."

Sales are particularly strong in the young male market, capitalising on those with exhibitionist tendencies, but the company maintains there is wider appeal.

It sold 50,000 suits in its first year of trading and 250,000 in year two.

Fraser said: "Lots of different people buy them. There is the 15 to 20-year-old person who wants to have fun after school, then there is a completely different sector of people - the ones who are working during the week and are looking forward to the weekend to have a good time and let their hair down."

Future plans include trying to take the appeal beyond the morphsuit community of exhibitionist young men and stag parties, with a range of children's morphsuits soon to go on sale, and a morphsuit with a tutu for women.

You can hear more about the morphsuit company and its story so far by listening to Business Scotland on BBC Radio Scotland at 10.05 BST on Sunday, and later by free download.

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