Staying relevant to the market has become the most critical necessity for manufacturers in today’s post-COVID-19 era. Majority of apparel factories are running after every sort of apparel orders just to survive even if they don’t have expertise to cater to those orders and that has become the major shortcoming of the manufacturing industry. On the other hand, there are factories which are patiently studying consumer behaviour, researching about the retail market and simultaneously making plans by hitting the right strings to remain rooted for long run, all because they can’t sustain a single failure in this rough time.
Carnation Creations Pvt. Ltd., based out of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, is one such factory which, with all its forward planning and progressive approach, is firmly carrying its operations and strongly sailing its boat through the rough water. Akhilesh Anand, Managing Director, Carnation Creations Pvt. Ltd. had a candid conversation with Apparel Resources and he unfurled a pandora box of impressive information, his strategies for long term, his idea behind recent expansions and the current retail scenario of India. Below are the excerpts…
AR: With the newly built unit, how has your overall manufacturing landscape changed?
Akhilesh: Our working concept is entirely different. Though we are a knitwear factory, we are more on the lines of woven garment manufacturing concept. If you go to a shirt factory, they generally don’t take denim orders and vice versa. So, we have learned to say NO to customers for ‘many products’ and YES to ‘limited products’ – that’s our strength. We are not a big factory, but we believe in ‘capacity building’ in an efficient way.
With the newly built factory – unit 5, we have increased the capacity of producing undergarments. One more unit was previously producing around 300,000 undergarments per month and the new unit will scale up the capacity to additional 1 million pieces per month. We will start with production of 300,000 to 500,000 pieces per month in the first step and the remaining capacity will be built in the second step, gradually. Our Unit 1 has just 240 machines that produce tops, tees, polo, hoodie. Unit 2 produces only bottoms, joggers and similar products. We have plans for building more capacity for T-shirt and joggers as well.
Another reason for this gradual capacity building in different units is that we don’t want our machines to remain idle, by doing all sorts of knitwear because that restricts us from utilising the 100 per cent capacity, while our objective is to utilise 100 per cent machines. It also gives us a direction in terms of marketing as to what all products of which all customers we have to produce – basic or value-added. We think we are little ahead of what market is doing in terms of playing within limited products and that’s paying off really well.
AR: How did you plan and execute such expansion during COVID-19 time? What fascinated you?
Akhilesh: During early lockdown period – that was the biggest challenging time for us. We spent time thinking what we could produce in times coming ahead. So we laid out a plan for doing new things to strengthen our fundamentals and grow once the bad phase is over and increasing capacity for undergarments was one of such plans. We developed ‘Work from home’ (WFH) collections, kids’ joggers and a new set of undergarments.
We thought of producing certain products on our own in which we already have stronghold but these products are usually overlooked. The first thing that came to our mind was undergarments and there is a reason behind that. We are a huge population of 1.30 billion people and, according to a study we came across, there are around 500 million men in India who are over 16 years of age and buy at least 3-4 undergarments a year that makes the total required number of undergarments 1,500-2,000 million annually. It’s a massive number and only 40 per cent market is there for organised sector; so we sensed a huge potential for us in this category.
AR: How did you strategise to capture the market share in undergarment category to overshadow the impacts of COVID-19?
Akhilesh: You see the internet accessibility is rapidly increasing in rural areas of India and e-commerce is expanding to Tier-2, Tier-3 and Tier-4 cities which was meant only for the digital savvy consumers of Tier-1 cities until a few years back. That means ‘Bharat’ is driving the economy of India, not ‘India’ is driving the economy of ‘Bharat’. Why would we not want to capture the increasing market of Bharat?
Secondly, there is no monopoly of a few undergarments brands in the market now. Almost every brand is diversifying into undergarment segment and launching their own lines, especially on e-commerce platforms by collaborating with giants like Amazon and Flipkart. There is a paradigm shift in the market. But the question was – will the hardcore undergarment manufacturers in India entertain the low order quantities of newer brands or upcoming brands? This made me talk to my existing customers and we asked them about new lines of undergarments as well along with T-shirts and joggers which we were already producing, all because they had decided to not go to the big factories.
Another significant category for us is kidswear joggers; that’s given us good results in COVID-19 times. One can stop purchasing clothes for oneself, but they won’t stop purchasing for kids because as they grow old, sizes change, so does the clothing. Kids’ joggers are selling far better than men’s joggers. Some customers of ours’ demanded trial orders (in thousands) from us during pandemic times and those orders are for 200,000 pieces per month. So, this is another area to focus for us. This is how we are strategising it.
AR: You talked about flexibility. In current situation, what all sort of flexibilities are you providing to retailers which seem to be under pressure due to uncertain demand in the market?
Akhilesh: Flexibility in order quantities is the biggest support a factory can give to its existing customer in current scenario. If a brand wants certain products for e-commerce business or even for EBOs in low MOQ, we are able to provide them the number they are seeking for, without losing our profitability and efficiency. Brands and retailers are playing smart and they aren’t anymore putting same products in their EBOs as well as on their e-commerce platforms. And, they keep changing their product lines because of the difference in nature of business between e-commerce and offline retailing.
As we mentioned that we can cater to MOQ as well, we say this because of the fact that our factory is focused on production lines and mix the same products in one line. We reduce the cost by ‘do it yourself’ concept, for example, we never had consultants to set our factories and our Design Team has designed the entire interiors, furniture and fixtures and our showroom, while production people have set up/designed shopfloors. This signature is there throughout the departments. When we told them to go beyond boundaries and start designing the areas of the new factory during lockdown period, they took this job seriously. Pandemic has made us learn a fact that human spirit is stronger than anything else.
AR: How innovative/different are your products?
Akhilesh: I give you one example. During COVID-19 time, WFH model has gained an inevitable space in the working process of most of the companies. Fashion statement is changing so the person, who is sitting on screen with his team, would want to look good, appealing and professional even if he wears a simple T-shirt. We did research on certain kinds of T-shirts, colour shades and textures that will look good not just in real but on-screen when somebody plans to attend a virtual meeting. We eliminated all colour shade challenges (with strong fabric development and processing) which a wearer comes across most of the times when the colour of the cloth he wears seems dull on screen. We didn’t want that to happen in our products.
Another example is multi-purpose product which is a necessary addition to product portfolio in today’s time. Joggers that we are producing can be worn in homes, in the markets and one can travel wearing them. We know ways to make a product last long and comfortable.
AR: How are you managing to speed up delivery to market?
Akhilesh: Our mantra is that we have to be ready when opportunities come else there is no sense of being in the market and cribbing about the things. In the months of September-October, market speeded up and industries across the nations bounced back. When economy bounces up like this, there shouldn’t be any excuse for not being ready for it. We saw it coming well in advance and were ready to grab opportunities. Now, coming to short lead time point, I would like to say if a customer wants delivery of order in 15 days, we can do that as traditional methods of 90 day delivery have been ruled out of the market. This is only possible because our products are limited and we are not changing lines all the time. We are equipped with necessary raw material and have stored grey fabric in our stock as we keep doing research on what will sell in the market. The moment brands ask for an order processing, we start acting on it. This is enhanced version of ‘Just in Time’ concept. We are digitally connected in our value-added departments, which are time taking zones, such as print and embroidery, so that delay (if there is any) can be eliminated at right time. This way, we are processing orders at quite a rapid speed from design to dispatch, reducing lead time drastically and enabling brands to hit product lines immediately to their selling platforms.
AR: What all sort of technologies have been integrated in your units and how are these technologies helping you?
Akhilesh: We have centralised cutting room and every unit of ours is located at the same place. Being a progressive factory, what we extensively focus is on developing apps in-house to keep track of entire shopfloor and subsequent processes. Those apps keep track of our garment quantity and quality, online.
Our set-up is built in such a way that the goods get manufactured and packed within 4 hours. We are aggressively approaching towards implementing lean manufacturing concept. Another area where we are strong at is fabric storage and identification. When a fabric roll comes, it is given a certain colour sticker. After cutting of that roll, all the sizes are further given different colour stickers and, even if a person doesn’t read the sizes on the cut parts, the colours tell them which size of cut part bundle he is picking.
On shopfloor, we don’t feed all sizes of a garment on machines all at once. We start with larger sizes and then go with smaller sizes. The reason behind this is to tell the final checker, without any hassle, how many pieces of a particular size have come for finishing and how many are in WIP. This way we are reducing counting process, human involvement and administrative process. Then, we put bar-code on these garments which are scanned before we send them to CT-PAT area which also has counting facility.
As far as sustainable technologies are concerned, we have installed solar plate for electricity and we have been doing rain water harvesting since the inception of our factory and we don’t buy single drop of water from outside or take it from borewell.The factory has been set up in the lap of nature and it is designed in such a way that every worker is getting air, be it natural or through installed fans whose diameter is 24 feet which, even with a slow speed, avoids fatigue level of shopfloor workers.
Now we are going to implement the digital tape/smart tape measurement technology to measure size of the garments digitally and send data directly to the computer. We have implemented laser stamping instead of putting stickers, for marking purpose.
You see owners are not very flexible in order to change the old practices. When I used to work with factories and provided low-cost suggestions, they were still reluctant but I know the values of my suggestions. So, I implemented all those small solutions in my factories. The one thing that keeps us going is that we are very much open for ‘Learning-Unlearning-Relearning’ concept.