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From indie rock bands to the land of the rising sun, this Glasgow-based bespoke bobble hat maker has an army of devoted fans.

Wonky Woolies entered the world of exporting by accident, when a Japanese buyer approached Alison Burn at a trade show in Glasgow. Up to that point she had only considered selling her products in Scotland and - possibly - to the rest of the UK.

Alison Burn of Wonky Woolies, now exports her hats to Japan. Image courtesy of BQ Scotland

“I was excited but got really worried that it wouldn’t work out,” she says. 

But it did, and now Wonky Woolies bobble hats are selling in Japan.

Fast-forward to this January and another Scottish Trade Fair and Wonky Woolies has fulfilled a repeat order for that first buyer and she is talking with five other potential Japanese outlets.

In addition to adding valuable sales, exporting is making a wider contribution to the development of Alison’s business. “Our busiest months are from November through to February or March. The Japanese buyers are looking for us to supply them with goods in August so that work really helps to balance out our year.”

Alison Burn joined one of our Preparing to Export Introductory workshops over two days, which she said gave her the confidence to operate in overseas markets.

"There was a really good cross section of businesses there who were at slightly different stages in exporting and we were all able to learn from each other’s ideas and experience,” she says.

It is a dramatic rise for a business that will have been fully operational for two years in June after Alison had previously tested the market with a few individual commissions and visits to craft fairs.

Wonky Woolies started as a custom bobble hat business – customers would commission their own design of hat to celebrate their own business or for a particular occasion.

Custom commissions have included those for Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro, to mark the Isle of Mann TT race in 2013, with the latest being a commission for South Park Custom Bobbles to coincide with the launch of the new South Park computer game The Stick of Truth.

Alison is determined to increase her knowledge, understanding and skills in exporting and plans to go to a Preparing to Export intermediate workshop. She is also considering entering Scandinavian markets and is planning to go on a trade mission to “see for myself” and make contacts before taking the plunge into a new territory.

Find out more about our Preparing to Export workshops