Omer Ahmed’s interest in denim began at an early age.
Omer Ahmed has been in denim business since 2006. Prior to his CEO position at Artistic Milliners, he held a number of different senior management positions in sales and marketing, research and development and global strategy. He led his company to “Best in Class Mill Award” from Levi Strauss & Co. in 2018 and “Most Innovative Mill Award” by Gap Inc. in 2016 and developed the world’s first gold certified Cradle to Cradle denim fabric in collaboration with G-Star Raw.
Ahmed is also a board member of Artistic Energy, which produces clean and renewable energy for people of Pakistan.
What will the denim industry be like in the next 18 months?
It’s hard to predict what exactly the industry will look like, but we are seeing somewhat of a roadmap emerge as we collectively make our way out of this complex economic quagmire created by the on-going pandemic.
The subject of circularity was already a hot topic pre-pandemic but is trending even more as the most important topic of discussion. Even though there has been talk in the industry about closing the loop, recycling, up-cycling, repurposing, reusing, so on and so forth, effective ways to getting there are still ambiguous. All stakeholders of our eco-system need to hold each other accountable to a higher standard when it comes to designing products of the future. This pertains to the complete ingredient mix as well as production methods used from fiber to garment.
Just-in-time models will be more widely adopted. Order placement to shipment will have to become faster. However, this will be a quasi-movement in most cases as there are so many different components that go into a pair of jeans today that it’s going to be hard to be agile and produce unique innovative products at the same time.
As social restrictions begin to ease, we are seeing many brands experimenting with hybrid models between online and brick and mortar to further enhance convenience and hence elevate the consumer experience. Store pick-ups and individual store appointments are two of the popular ones recently adopted by retailers. We will continue to see disruption in this space, which will be interesting to follow.
The general consensus in our industry as the dust starts to settle is that the biggest problem we face is oversupply and over-consumption, which in turn has created massive waste. With near-term consumption dropping and future forecasts also looking bleak for most, the industry is being forced into an overall consolidation, which in my opinion will be healthy for the ecosystem in the mid- to long-term. The denim value chain has been evolving at a brisk pace for many years. Brands and manufacturers who haven’t adjusted their sails to the changing winds will be forced to reduce in size or will eventually cease to exist. The evolved players or like-minded companies in the value chain will find deeper more meaningful ways to work together.
What change would you like to see in the denim industry as a result of Covid-19?
The people in our business, especially the factory workers are the most vulnerable link in our supply chain and were the most negatively impacted by the pandemic. Our entire eco-system must show more compassion when it comes to our workers and work hand-in-hand with relevant NGO’s to ensure that the vulnerable are taken care of in the face of future catastrophes.
At Artistic Milliners, we have been fortunate as we are working with organizations like Fair Trade, which have helped us set up worker relief funds, as well as our brand partners who have helped us every step of the way when it came to payments to sustain cash flow in order to pay workers. However, many factories around the world have been less fortunate and the aftermath has been dire for their workers.
How do you define sustainability in a post-pandemic world?
We need to be more transparent. There are still too many manufacturers in the world not following the basic requirements, like operating a functional water treatment plant, or are running obsolete plants with high consumption of precious resources with a significant carbon footprint.
Sourcing departments in many companies are still ignoring the ground realities in order to get the best possible deal—this has to end. There needs to be more due diligence before selecting manufacturing partners they are working with rather than just focusing on the cheapest possible solution and ignoring the rest.
There’s also a chance with all the financial damage caused by the pandemic, companies will be reluctant in changing their ways as sustainability initiatives are typically capital intensive in the short-term. Overtime this approach will end up costing us dearly.
However, I would like to add there are many companies up and down the supply chain doing incredible work, but they are still a minority when we look at the overall picture. No one company can drive the required change on their own, therefore more of us need to share and lead by example when it comes to better, more sustainable ways of producing our blues.
Describe your dream jeans.
Being a minimalist, I’ve always appreciated few yet extremely high quality ingredients put together with an obsessional attention to detail. So, for me the dream jean would start with premium cotton like Pima, spun to maximize strength and softness, then ring-dyed in a medium pure indigo and woven on a vintage Picanol President shuttle loom. Perhaps with a Roica v550 degradable elastane in the weft with elasticity of 15 to 20 percent and a final weight of 12.5-13 oz.
Name one word that best describes denim.
Transformational—like time and nature, it never stays the same. It’s always evolving for better or worse. I think that is true for life and true for denim.