British sports teams struggle abroad, but the winning sides wear British gear. Speedo International, the swimwear manufacturers which clad the Australian and Chinese teams in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and Proton Textiles, makers of the cloth on the backs of Glasgow Rangers and the German national side, are two of the sports and leisurewear companies to gain awards.

Aquion drysuits, of Rotherham, a small company established in 1984, whose market includes military and commercial customers as well as sportsmen, is also winning an award for the first time. It operates an on-line order and processing system so orders can be made during any working day.

George Costa, managing director of Proton, has built up an pounds 8 million business in a field which seemed doomed. As he studied textile economics at university, to equip him for the family business, he was surrounded by talk of the demise of the British textiles industry.

But next month, his manufacturing plant will relocate from Nottingham to become neighbours of Rolls Royce in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, in preparation for a pounds 2 million investment on manufacturing machinery. The Nottingham plant, which has now been outgrown, was set up last year, taking over a plastics factory.

The company, set up in 1986, began manufacturing two years ago. Mr Costa's family had been textile merchants, but saw the need to change to have more control.

He said; "We were dealing with manufacturers who preferred vertical manufacturing. They were putting down large contracts and wanted to secure supply.

"We started out in dresswear manufacture and brought those lead times to the sportswear market. ''

The company now exports two-thirds of its sales, mostly to famous names such as Nike and Adidas, who manufacture all over the world. With 10 staff in the London office and 25 in Nottingham, it is one of the smallest firms to win an award.

Speedo, also based in Nottingham, has grown its sales by 19 per cent every year after deciding to take a global rather than domestic view under its comparatively recent owners, Pentland (which also owns other sporting names including Reebok, Ellesse, Kickers, Lacoste shoes, Mitre footballs and Berghaus outdoor wear).

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