Plastic's fantastic for innovative Shrewsbury start-up

An innovative manufacturer in Shrewsbury is launching a new product which could allow fashion houses to make buttons and spectacles frames which change colour in sunlight.

Lee Gough demonstrates his new colour-changing plastic at Shyre in Shrewsbury
Lee Gough demonstrates his new colour-changing plastic at Shyre in Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury-based Shyre has already gained traction in the optical industry for the ground-breaking processes it uses in colour-changing glass – also known as photochromic lenses.

Now the young company is moving to other parts of specs after mastering a technique which allows plastics to be imbued with colour-changing dyes – a process which is usually rendered near impossible because dyes won't stand up to the heat and pressure of plastic moulding and extrusion.

The company has applied for a patent for its technology, and co-director Lee Gough, who runs the company alongside Dan Hancu, said he foresees a variety of applications for the products.

"The first application will be putting it to market in will be spectacle frames," he said. "Most plastic frames are acetate or nylon, and this new technology will allow us to make colour changing frames.

"It's a high end market where people are looking for something different. It's a very fashionable industry, and you get boutique customisable frames sold for a lot of money where something different is a selling point. You could have clear lenses and frames indoors and when you go outside they could be purple and pink.

"The other end of the spectrum you have something that could be sold inexpensively as more of a novelty item.

"We are in the process of finishing an initial deal for the frame technology which should see the frames in a well-known retail chain fairly imminently.

"It could be used for fashion items, or medical applications – anything from little bits of plastic to be used in making bags or toys or buttons for shirts. Designer shirt manufacturers will do anything to be a bit different – that might be colour-changing buttons on a shirt."

The latest breakthrough comes as the business makes further progress in the roll-out of its photochromic lenses.

Lenses made using the company's techniques are already increasingly commonplace in opticians in the USA and Europe, but it has now entered a partnership in the UK which will see its products stocked at home.

"We are very certainly on the global radar now," Mr Gough said. "There's no doubt now that major players in the global market have heard of us.

"We have developed a strong partnership with a prestigious UK lab, and are basically beta testing on their site.

"We have our machines and processes installed over there. They want to validate it for their whole range of different lenses which is quite extensive.

"They will be strongly going to market in the next two to three months, so our lines will be in the shops in the UK. That's quite an achievement and we will be quite happy with it."

Shyre is currently based in the Rural Enterprise Centre on Battlefield in Shrewsbury, but is now set to move as it attempts to ramp up production.

"We are just trying to get the paperwork sorted out but we have a place nearby that is maybe four times the size," Mr Gough said.

"We wanted to stay in Shrewsbury. We will be able to produce more machines and take on more staff.

"We don't have an awful lot of space to put anybody at the moment. We will be able to ramp up production of more space for stock holding.

"We will also be looking to take on an apprentice. It will be gradual and organic – we want to grow organically – but I would like to see us taking on, optimistically, three to five people over the next year or so."

He added: "It feels like over the last few months that we are really cresting the summit. It feels like we are past the hardest point.

"We can take stock of what we have got and plan a bit more proactively rather than reacting to what happens every month.

"I can't see us being anything less than 90 to 95 per cent exports. We do well in the UK but there is a finite amount of places in the UK that could become customers.

"After the initial 12 months when we started to sell it was fairly slow. Now more people are aware of the technique and have confidence in the technology."

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