Basic Apparel Going Strong with LIDL – Moving into Value-Added Workwear Bottoms and Super Stretch Advance Denim Bottoms
Looking at the nature of the global apparel and textile business, almost everyone will advice an apparel manufacturer to have multiple buyers in its sewing capacity rather becoming dedicated vendor to a single buyer; simply do not put all eggs in one basket! But when a company has a lucrative buyer such as Lidl, one is bound to not follow ‘everyone’s advice’. Such has been the case with Dhaka-based bottom manufacturer Basic Apparels, which under the leadership of Stefan Pirker, Managing Director and Ajay Agal, CEO has peaked new heights year after year, while working only with the German retailer Lidl. “We are proud to say that we are the largest manufacturer for workwear in Bangladesh as we have associated with the company primarily for supplying workwear products,” claims Ajay Agal. The company has a capacity to manufacture industrial workwear for retail market, heavy engineering and automobile industries, carpenters, boiler suits and other such areas of mechanical works. Most of the products made by the company are retailed at stores for FOB varying between US $ 6.0 to US $ 15, based on fabrication, style and volume.
New Product Categories
Moving ahead with the market trends the company has already diversified its product portfolio by venturing into the manufacturing of super stretch advance denim bottoms for ladies and workwear items for family and children. The company has allocated 10- 15% of sewing capacity of 21 sewing lines i.e. 1800 sewing machines, to manufacturing denim bottoms. Talking about denims, Ajay added, “We are doing much specialised denim where the value and volumes are higher. Lidl has announced to launch around 100 new stores in US within a year time line and with more stores in pipeline, the quantities will definitely increase and we will get the quantity work.” Another product category in which the company has diversified into is workwear items for family and children, for household activities such as gardening and painting. “It is the family workwear category where we have focused on household activities such as gardening and painting. Although the construction of these items is very similar to regular workwear items but it’s more attractive, with more colours, the amount of value addition goes up with prints and colourful contrasting stitches; the garment doesn’t look like a workwear,” elaborates Ajay. This is the first year the company has started doing family workwear items and it very positive of the demand in the years to come.
With a present turnover of USD 45 Million, Ajay Agal has set his sights on USD 75 Million for the financial year 2019-20. To achieve the same, Basic Apparels has already initiated expansions with plans for adding a total of 7 to 15 sewing lines. Talking about the future growth plans and market trends, Ajay added, “Since 2014 the average FOB prices being offered by the buyers always have a big challenge. But the wages have gone up by 30% to 40% and our expenses have gone up by 15% to 20%.” Instead of postponing growth in lieu of the growing prices, Ajay has focused on increasing the productivity and efficiency of workers at Basic Apparels. “Few year ago, we could get away with 2% to 3% fabric against wastage but now needs to rationalized between 0.5% to 1.0% and we are working on further reducing the same,” he adds. Basic Apparels has had a head start in the aspect of improving productivity and efficiency because of the standardized nature of the product, predictable demand and high order quantities.
The 1,800 sewing machines in the factory of Basic Apparels has been divided into 21 sewing lines inclusive of part preparation and final assembly lines, along with finishing and final packing at the end of the line. “With the help of online packing, we do not get surprises at the time of shipment in terms of the quantity. There are no missing pieces and even the extra 1% fabric which is cut, is converted into garment and offered to the buyers, enabling us to have nearly 100% cut to ship ratio,” explains Ajay. With the use of automated sewing machines and working on the principle of industrial engineering for improving methodology and using innovative work aids, the need for helper employment are minimised. Basic Apparels has focused on automation that reduces the cycle time of sewing operations while keeping the flexibility of the sewing operation intact. A double-needle lockstitch machine with a split-needle bar was used for double-needle sewing, a feature which is useful in turning the garment at pocket corners and can even be used for single-needle operations. Due to continuous high needle work, all the sewing machines are equipped with large capacity bobbins and automatic bobbin winders.
The critical sewing operations have been deskilled with the use of work aids and attachments, and one such intervention has been done to optimize the operation wherein a reflective tape was to be sewn in-between the side seam. Previously done in three steps, the operation is now being done in a single go wherein the panels with the tape in-between are joined together through an overlock machine and the tape is fed through a simple attachment. Ajay claims that due to such deskilling initiatives, the operators have clocked efficiencies between 60% and 65%, way above the country’s average and even some helpers were successfully upgraded to sewing operators. Moreover, due to such interventions, Basic Apparels has reduced the number of sewing operations that require specialized training, further reducing the dependence on skilled operators.
The company’s performance can also be gauged by looking at KPIs such as Rejection Rate and Defects Per Hundred Units (DHU), which are 2% and 5% respectively. Since the quality and robustness of workwear is of utmost importance, there are 16 Quality Checkers in one line – from inline to packing, because final packing is also a part of the sewing line. 7 Quality Checkers are placed within and at the end of the sewing line, 7 are placed within and at the end of the finishing line and the remaining two are the floating Quality Checkers, who randomly check the output of sewing operators. The inline Quality Checkers are responsible for checking the sewing defects whereas the end-line Quality Checkers check the overall look and getup of the garment. The most stringent aspect of the quality checking is sewing margins and there is no negative tolerance in this case. Thus, after the sewing of every patch-pocket, a QC is there to check the same as the whole garment can be rejected because of this.