Upstream Focus is the Sourcing Journal’s series of conversations with suppliers, associations and procurement professionals to get their perspectives on the state of procurement, innovations in manufacturing and how to improve operations. In this question-and-answer session, Aroon Hirdaramani, director of Sri Lanka-based clothing manufacturer Hirdaramani Group – which has facilities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Ethiopia – discusses the challenges of meeting delivery deadlines. during the pandemic and how Covid-19 has stepped up digital product development.
Name: Aroon Hirdaramani
What’s the number one question you are asking your customers now that had never really been considered before?
Customers are very concerned about the delivery commitments of their bulk orders due to the impact of the pandemic and persistent delays throughout the supply chain, including raw materials and transit times. This is made worse by the fact that our key US and EU markets have now opened up and there is significant demand for our core products.
What processes have you put in place because of the Covid that you would like to see continue even after the health crisis is behind us?
In product design and development: migration to online road show examples and increased use of 3D technology for design and fit approval; in manufacturing: health protocols such as hand washing, social distancing, etc. ; in general management: Online meetings and less travel. I don’t think business travel will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.
How do you rate brands and potential business partners differently now compared to before the pandemic?
The financial stability of the brand is of paramount importance. Brands with a strong online presence and at low cost are doing well, and we will focus on working more intensively with these customers. We will also focus on brands aligned with our sustainability principles.
What is the main thing that brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) now that would immediately improve product development?
First, the increase in the use of 3D technology will immediately improve product development. Second, by placing more emphasis on circularity in the fashion industry, brands and retailers have a responsibility to encourage customers to move away from fast fashion. Third, brands should attract more customers to products that are purchased and produced in a sustainable manner. This could be done using the right choices of materials.
How are you adapting your operations to support small, fast-turnaround orders?
Our facilities are equipped to handle long and short-run orders. Smaller, more nimble production lines were put in place to support small, fast turnaround orders. We are also studying partnerships with other suppliers to provide nearshore capacities to our main customers.
In this challenging retail environment, how do you work with customers to balance the needs of sustainability and profitability?
Our customers are very focused on producing sustainable products. Most of our customers are committed to achieving long-term sustainability goals. We are also guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and have developed a new sustainable development strategy for the years to come. It comes at a price, but we and our customers understand the need for sustainability, especially in our industry. Therefore, we collaborate with our customers to make judicious choices of raw materials taking into account the end of life of a garment. Especially for dyeing denim and garments, we focus on sustainable finishing techniques that eliminate manual processes and reduce the use of water and chemicals.
When it comes to quality and compliance, what are the biggest challenges?
One of the biggest challenges is consistently meeting on-time deliveries and responding to deliveries with reduced manpower due to the impact of the pandemic. It happens in the short term. Logistics is another challenge, as the delays caused have a negative impact on our production. Regarding quality, we did not encounter any major challenges.
How has Covid improved your remote collaboration capabilities? What technology or innovation have you found most useful during this time?
The Covid pushed us to use technology that was already available to us. As a group, we were already equipped for remote working, with cloud-based applications, so our teams were able to collaborate remotely and conduct business as usual during last year’s lockdown. In terms of a technology that we found very useful, we started online fitting sessions and grew using 3D samples.
However, uncertainties remain due to the pandemic. For example, the safety and well-being of our associates, if other blockages occur in the short term, and if this will affect our supply chain and on-time delivery.
What’s the best decision your business has made in the past year?
To be able to make agile decisions with our business continuity plans. In addition, we have stepped up our investments in digitizing our operations where possible and continued to invest in sustainable production and washing technologies.
What keeps you from sleeping at night?
Right now, it’s the increase in Covid-19 cases across South Asia. We hope that the situation will stabilize in the near future.
What makes you the most optimistic?
Rapid roll-out of vaccinations in our key markets, which has already led to increased demand. We hope that we will see a V-shaped recovery on this basis. In addition, the incredible resilience of our workforce in all of our factories, which continues to deliver efficiently despite the many daily challenges associated with this pandemic.
What does Hirdaramani have in store for 2021?
Our main goal for 2021 is the well-being and safety of our employees. We believe they are our greatest strength. We strive to do the right thing for our people, the communities we work with and our planet. We have embarked on an ambitious sustainability strategy in which we are committed to taking responsibility for our business practices and reducing our carbon footprint.
The pandemic has taught us how to react in the face of adversity. Our operations are leaner and more flexible, and we are now geared towards sustainable growth with our key partners.