Upstream Focus is Sourcing Journal’s series of conversations with suppliers, associations and sourcing professionals to get their insights on the state of sourcing, innovations in manufacturing and how to improve operations. In this Q&A, Aroon Hirdaramani, director at Sri Lanka-based apparel manufacturer Hirdaramani Group—which has facilities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Ethiopia—discusses the challenges of meeting delivery timelines during the pandemic and how Covid-19 has ramped up digital product development.
Name: Aroon Hirdaramani
What’s the number one question you get from your clients now that was never really a consideration before?
Customers are very concerned about delivery commitments of their bulk orders due to the impact of the pandemic and continuing delays throughout the supply chain, including raw materials and transit lead times. This is compounded by the fact that our key markets in the U.S. and E.U. have now opened up, and there is significant demand for our main products.
Which processes have you put in place due to Covid that you’d like to see continue even after the health crisis is behind us?
In design and product development: Moved to online sample road shows, and increased the use of 3D technology for design and fit approval; in manufacturing: Health protocols like washing of hands, social distancing, etc.; in general management: Online meetings and less travel. I don’t think business travel will ever go back to pre-pandemic levels.
How are you evaluating potential brand and retail partners differently now compared to before the pandemic?
Financial stability of the brand is of paramount importance. Brands with strong online and off-price presence are doing well, and we will focus on working more with these customers. We will also focus on brands that are aligned to our principles on sustainability.
What is the main thing brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) right now that would immediately improve product development?
First, increasing the usage of 3D technology will immediately improve product development. Second, with greater focus on circularity in the fashion industry, brands and retailers have the responsibility to encourage customers to move away from fast fashion. Third, brands should draw customers more towards products that are sourced and produced in a sustainable manner. This could be done by using the right material choices.
How are you adapting your operations to support quick-turn, small-run orders?
Our facilities are equipped to manage both long-run and small-run orders. Smaller and more agile production lines have been put in place to support quick-turn, small-run orders. We are also exploring partnerships with other vendors to provide nearshore capacities to our key customers.
In this challenging retail environment, how are you working with clients to balance sustainability needs with cost efficiency?
Our clients are very much focused on producing sustainable products. Most of our customers are committed to long-term sustainability goals. We are also driven by the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals and have mapped out a new sustainability strategy for the years ahead. This comes with a price tag, but both ourselves and our customers understand the need for sustainability, especially in our industry. Therefore, we collaborate with our customers to make smart raw material choices with the end of the life of a garment in mind. Especially for denim and garment dyeing, we focus on sustainable finishing techniques that remove manual processes and reduce the usage 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 meeting deliveries with reduced workforce due to the impact of the pandemic. This happens at short notice. Logistics is another challenge, as delays caused have a knock-on impact on our production. Regarding quality, we did not encounter major challenges.
How has Covid enhanced your remote collaboration capabilities? Which piece of technology or innovation have you found most useful during this time?
Covid has driven 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 the lockdown last year. In terms of one piece of technology which we found very useful, we started online fit sessions and increased using 3D samples.
There are remaining uncertainties due to the pandemic, however. For example, the safety and wellbeing of our associates, if further lockdowns will occur on short notice, and if it will affect our supply chain and meeting delivery timelines.
What is the best decision your company has made in the last year?
To be able to make agile decisions with our business continuity plans. Also, we fast-tracked our investments in digitizing our operations wherever possible and continued to invest in sustainable production and washing technologies.
What keeps you up at night?
At the moment, it is the increase in Covid-19 cases throughout South Asia. We do hope that the situation will stabilize in the near future.
What makes you most optimistic?
Rapid rollout of vaccinations in our key markets, which has already led to increased demand. We hope that we will see a V-shaped recovery based on this. Also, the amazing resilience of our workforce throughout our factories, who continue to deliver efficiently despite the numerous daily challenges of operating through this pandemic.
What’s in store for Hirdaramani in 2021?
Our key focus for 2021 is the wellbeing and safety of our employees. We believe that 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 where we are committing to take accountability for our business practices and also to reduce our carbon footprint.
The pandemic has taught us how we can respond in adversity. Our operations are leaner and more flexible, and we are now geared for sustainable growth with our key partners.