Not many foreign A-list celebrities grace the streets of Prilep in Macedonia, a city of 66,000 people located 130 kilometres south of capital Skopje. However, there is one unusual link between Prilep and Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney, as well as pop bands The Wanted and JLS. All of these UK celebrities have endorsed Sound Asleep, pillows manufactured by Comfy Angel, a Prilep-based joint venture between UK and Macedonian partners.

Since its foundation in 2004, Comfy Angel has grown to employ 600 people and now supplies its bedding products to the majority of the UK's major retail outlets, from John Lewis at the top end of the price scale to Argos at the budget end.

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The key to the company’s success lies in close geographical proximity of Comfy Angel and the company’s clients. "It takes months before products manufactured in the Far East reach the UK. In our case, the production and delivery time can be as short as two weeks,” says Andrew Bruce, managing director of Comfy Angel.

This short production and delivery time is one of the main reasons why Casa Moda, a German clothing label, invested in the restructuring of Moda Sveti Nikole, a formerly state-run enterprise in Macedonia. Angel Dimitrov, Moda Sveti Nikole’s executive manager, points also to the price of labour in Macedonia (the average monthly salary in the sector is a little over $300) and customs-free access to the EU markets as two key reasons for investing in the country. "[Because of] these factors, although the basic capital in our company is €1.4m, the value of the exports of the shirts manufactured by us last year was €3.7m,” says Mr Dimitrov.

Set for a revival?

Moda Sveti Nikole was established in 1955, a golden decade for the textile industry in Macedonia. “Each part of Yugoslavia had to specialise in something. Our specialty was textiles,” says Aleksander Spirovski, export director at Teteks Yarn, a company that spun off from Teteks, a state-owned wool plant established in 1951.

The turbulent break-up of Yugoslavia left the company, and the whole of Macedonia's textiles industry, in dire straits. Teteks Yarn currently employs only 250 people, a fair cry from 8500 workers during Teteks’ heyday. Nevertheless, Mr Spirovski believes that the textile industry in Macedonia is set to undergo a renaissance. “We have favourable business conditions and we have tradition. The skills are out there. There is a strong case for textile manufacturing in Macedonia,” says Mr Spirovski.

What Macedonia appears to lack, however, is fabrics production, something that has not rebounded since the industry’s collapse in 1990s. “We sew things, but materials come from the Far East,” says Mr Dimitrov.

Irena Jakimovska, who with Mr Bruce manages Comfy Angel’s Prilep plant, says that fabric production is one of the most attractive business opportunities in the Macedonian textile industry. According to Ms Jakimovska, one reason why foreign investors are reluctant to invest in the country’s textiles industry is a lack of knowledge regarding its capabilities to produce fabrics. Comfy Angel is making efforts to change this, however. In May, the company will unveil the world’s largest pillow. The pillow will measure 15 metres by 15 metres and will be 101 square metres bigger than the current record holder, giving Prilep yet another claim to fame.