Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Pawan Gupta, co-founder of B2B apparel manufacturing platform Fashinza, shares what fashion must do to survive and how his company is working to tackle the industry’s excess inventory problem.
Name: Pawan Gupta
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
I always like to compare it with the automobile supply chain. While many would argue that it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, I believe that there is a lot to learn here. Automobile companies have been pioneers of just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, resulting in virtually zero waste. While JIT may not be possible for the apparel industry yet, there are significant steps the industry can take to increase speed, reduce wastage and become more demand driven. We have the technology and data available today to achieve this. It would prevent overproduction or producing apparel nobody wants.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
I am actually more of a minimalist. I tend to buy things I need as opposed to buying things impulsively—although I do indulge in that from time to time. But I tend to stick to high-quality products suiting my choice and personality.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Quality, durability and subtle novelty. I am also a big fan of mid-size startup brands that stand for sustainability.
What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?
My typical work uniform is a slim fit plain polo or mandarin collar T-shirt in blue or black, slim-fit denim, and some smart suede shoes or sneakers. This would be my outfit 75 percent of work days.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
Though I am more of a timeless fashion guy, I would love for a return of the fashion of the ’70s. I want to go out in public wearing high-waist bell bottoms!
Who’s your style icon?
The character of Bobby Axelrod in “Billions”—smart casuals carried with utmost confidence, even between the suits. That’s what I feel the most comfortable in and aspire to do.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
Making supply chain transparency our top priority has been one of our best decisions. When we started, our biggest priority was to bring agility in the supply chain—reducing lead times, MOQs, inventory, etc. That still is our North Star metric, but we realized that the road to agility starts from transparency. The industry is run by some of the most kind and socially conscious people in the world, provides employment and confidence to millions of poor women, but still suffers from multiple social and environmental issues. It hurts not just the fashion brands, but the overall industry including the artisans who love their craft.
We realized that by bringing transparency in the ecosystem using technology, we can rebuild consumer confidence in the industry, remove any unethical practices and provide meaningful employment to millions of people and potentially solve poverty in the world’s most underdeveloped areas. And that transparency has to percolate into everything we do as a company, internally or externally.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
The culture of the company is defined by its people, not just the top management. Our company is formed of hardworking people, a lot of whom come from lower middle-class families in the smallest towns and villages. They have reached where they are through sheer hard work and customer service. And that is what is reflected in our culture too. Hard work, and a customer-first approach with complete transparency using the latest cutting-edge technology, is how I would describe our culture.
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
Survival and agility. What Covid has taught us is that we can’t just discount black swan events. Our businesses in this ever-changing world have to be super agile so our survival is never in the question. The companies that went out of business during Covid would have gone out sooner or later; Covid just made it happen fast.
The businesses can’t just rely on their age-old business models. They need to open up to innovation, new business models and push the boundaries. For example, do you still need to travel thousands of miles four times a year just to place orders? Do you still need to book six months of inventory 12 months in advance? If you are still doing this, the next Covid-type calamity will hit your fragile business.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Agility. The apparel industry is going through multiple changes at the same time. The environment has become super dynamic, work from home has changed the demand patterns, online business has become massive, there is a lot of uncertainty in the supply chain, and a lot of cash is stuck in inventory. What the industry has realized during the pandemic is that it was stuck in its age-old ways of working for far too long.
The businesses of the future have to be super agile and adopt technology to react to any change in the demand. They need to be driven by data and not just intuition. Agility has to be built into the industry from the ground up. If a brand is still keeping six months of inventory and planning 18 months in advance, they haven’t learned the lessons yet.
What keeps you up at night?
My life’s goal is to make a meaningful impact in eradicating poverty from the most underdeveloped communities of the world, and do this while having a positive impact on the environment. That’s what keeps me up at night, what I dream about at night, and what I spend my day on.
What makes you most optimistic?
I live by the saying: “It’s better to be optimistic and wrong, than be pessimistic and right.” It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the negativity in the world and feel dejected. But once you block that negativity, you realize that everyone is just trying to build a better world in their own way. One way or the other, we will land in a better world in the future.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
We recently introduced our fintech-enabled supply chain solutions. Using this, the brands—especially the SMBs—can instantly qualify for a credit period and limit to source products from overseas, while the suppliers, again mostly SMBs, get financing support to source raw materials and pay their labor on time. This has been made possible with our technology infrastructure and data algorithms. This is our step in enabling SMBs to compete with the larger retailers with demonstrated credit history. At the same time, it doesn’t squeeze the suppliers and provides them ethical terms for their honest work.