Responsiveness, reliability and adaptability have been at the crux of every company that has survived the peak pandemic period with minimal losses and is now ready for growth. One such company that has not only shown resilience, but has stood by its people across multiple locations around the world to emerge stronger and more determined to serve the industry with sustainable products and better synergy is American & Efird (A&E). In a one-o-one held recently with Team Apparel Resources, Chris Alt, Executive Vice President, Elevate Textiles and Sanjeev Narula, Managing Director at Vardhman Yarns & Threads Ltd., share the strategy that has worked well for the company in these difficult times.
One of the biggest priorities for A&E during the last 15 months has been to keep its people safe and rotate business in different regions to ensure continuity. “We tried to get as disciplined as possible and established a consistent protocol in all plants for safety, besides doing whatever we could to preserve capital. In India we took responsibility for all migrant workers in our factories and made sure that they are safe, well fed and even happy within the facilities,” shares Chris. The strategy has worked well for them as it was easy to restart operations as soon as the situation permitted. “While many companies are struggling to find labour, we are already up and running, servicing clients promptly,” avers Sanjeev.
The initial thrust was to provide threads for the PPE category, which was the supreme need last year and a major growth segment for the sewn industry. Supporting the medical and workwear communities, A&E offers RSL approved, critical PPE sewing threads for a multitude of PPE products, including disposable surgical products, surgical masks, scrubs, hospital sheets and towels, reusable medical gowns, clean room garments and protective coverall suits, among others. As the lockdowns spread, A&E kept shifting its market focus to those countries that had the business and was thus able to keep operations moving even when others were struggling to find markets that were open and looking for products.
Being a part of the Elevate Textiles Group proved to be an added advantage, specially in the medical and critical care category. “As a group we could leverage the strength of each of the brands – Cone Denim, Burlington, American & Efird (A&E), Gütermann and Safety Components, a global market leader in technology-driven fabric solutions, to reach wider audience and service markets in different parts of the world at a critical juncture,” says Chris. Moving ahead, sharing of ideas, experiences and pollinisation of best practices between the brands has really helped each to uplift their game in a global market where localisation is equally important.
A frontrunner and one of the early converts on the sustainability front, A&E was investing in technologies and processes that were environment-friendly even before the dawn of the new century and these early moves have proved beneficial today when such processes are no longer a whim but a necessity to stay in business. “It’s not only the global retailers and brands that are pushing for sustainable products and solutions, but now even the end customer is more aware and exploring options that are having sustainable tags and a commitment that the whole supply chain is ethical and environment compatible. In this highly evolved market condition, the fact that our facilities around the world are already in sync with global trends in sustainability is a big thumbs up for expanding business,” reasons Chris.
Adding that the company is not resting on past achievements but is continuously upgrading for new norms, Sanjeev shares that the new focus is on the area of water preservation and becoming Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) facility is a priority for every factory. “We are even working on becoming a zero waste landfill plant, which is the next frontier in sustainable manufacturing,” says Sanjeev. The company is committed to the cause and despite the irony that end customers are still reluctant to pay a few cents extra, A&E has a no tolerance approach and is looking at the expense as an investment into the future. The whole company and its people are completely aligned to the vision and the investments made in the past are paying rich dividend now, both in terms of increased business opportunities and image of the brand.
The latest product that is a step into the future is the Integrity™ ECO100™ which combines the INTEGRITY™ secure thread technology and A&E’s ECO100™ Recycled Threads — helping brands maintain value through intelligent sewing thread. “This is the world’s first anti-counterfeiting, sustainable sewing thread created as a result of a collaboration between A&E and Applied DNA Sciences (ADNAS). Our expansion of INTEGRITY secure thread technology is a natural progression for us to address our customers’ needs and extend our brand protection solutions,” says Chris. The focus now is on achieving sustainable targets set for 2025. The 2021 Annual Report of Elevate shares the company’s increased participation and leadership in global collaborations which are in alignment with the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles and structured in line with key UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitments related to Elevate and its brands.
The A&E team is quick to point out that the crisis is yet far from over and a cautious approach to business is the mantra. “We have to learn from the situation and move on. It is very important to be flexible, alert, responsive to change, as also be prepared for future challenges that include a difficult customer, seasonless offerings, increased transit time, price competitiveness, markets closing down, manufacturing countries facing new wave of the virus like we are seeing in Vietnam just now and fear that our own people, especially the sales team are exposed to the threat, as they go about their jobs,” says Chris.
Despite all the challenges, the A&E team is very positive and upbeat. “It is time to get back to the pre-pandemic levels and grow from there. Of course, however much we would like to, the past year cannot be erased, but it has given new purpose and goals and the fact that we have sailed through the worst with minimum casualties is something we are proud of and I am sure that the road ahead is now well cemented by our past efforts for growth,” signs off Chris with optimism that is well supported by results.