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, Ranjan Mahtani, executive chairman of Hong Kong-based apparel manufacturer Epic Group, shares what his company looks for in clients and how compliance is integrated into the group’s corporate culture.
Name: Ranjan Mahtani
Title: Executive chairman
Company: Epic Group
What’s the number one question you get from your clients now that was never really a consideration before?
“Who is your biggest competitor?” To which we answer that the biggest competitor we have is ourselves, as we believe that to keep on improving our performance and efficiencies is our biggest competition.
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?
We have put severe health checks in all our factories and offices like all other companies during Covid-19, which we intend to continue even post Covid-19. We have recently sponsored and arranged with great difficulty vaccinations for all our associates and employees in Bangladesh. We also have started with ClearVision to provide optical aide to our associates, and we will continue to provide health benefits and subsidized medication through our medical centers to our associates and workers, who are the important part and breadwinners in our company.
How are you evaluating potential brand and retail partners differently now compared to before the pandemic?
There are two factors that we look at in identifying our partners. One is their financial ability, as we have seen a lot of bankruptcies during the pandemic, and we want to ensure that we work with customers that are financially sound and whose invoices can be factored. Secondly, we are always looking for customers who are progressive and looking for long-term partners and how we can provide value to them. We look for brands that are continuously evolving, be it e-commerce or changing patterns and trends in the way people dress. Through these two factors, we continue to identify new customers and brands that we are forming partnerships with.
What is the main thing brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) right now that would immediately improve product development?
I think better usage of 3D, better usage of visual demonstrations of design, working proactively through technology to create designs with a combination of market intel would drastically improve product development. We make apparel, and 70 percent of apparel is fabric. Therefore, I would recommend that most customers should focus on high-quality fabrics, which would really enhance the product development.
How are you adapting your operations to support quick-turn, small run orders?
We are already manufacturing for brands where we ship to sometimes 27 to 42 destinations across the globe, where the big orders become small orders. But, for the future, we are also setting up microfactories with modular lines where we would be able to see output on the first day of production and really will be able to deliver within five to seven days from the incoming of the materials in the factory. This would help not only the online business but also our retail partners, who continuously evolve and upgrade their products based on the fast-changing fashion trends.
In this challenging retail environment, how are you working with clients to balance sustainability needs with cost efficiency?
As the COP26 conference shows us, sustainability is of paramount importance—even more than financials. During tight periods, we must find out ways to still move forward in our sustainability agenda. This means we will build better when we plan our new factories and identify opportunities to leverage existing skill and infrastructure. We put a lot of emphasis on sustainable fabrics and products.
When it comes to quality and compliance, what are the biggest challenges?
Our definition for quality is zero defects. If all of us focus on zero defects, that would describe quality, because checking quality theoretically through normal defects—stains and broken stitches—is one aspect of quality, and looking at the look and feel of the garment with the consumer’s eyes is the real quality of the product. That is why we try to create a combination and healthy mix of quality through different eyes that would look at the product from different angles.
Compliance is something that we don’t feel is a challenge. Compliance is something that we do for ourselves. The safety of our workers is our number one priority, and compliance helps us to ensure we maintain that priority. Therefore, compliance in our company is not a challenge, but an ongoing culture.
How has Covid enhanced your remote collaboration capabilities?
Most of our meetings during this time have been virtual—we do roadshows and design meetings virtually. We now have a team of nearly 15 members in Epic Group working on 3D. We make these 3D presentations, which are quite unique as it allows us to change different aspects of products in real-time while discussing with the customers. Of course, market intel is very important to this. We also develop our own storyboards. I would say that these 3D technologies have changed the way of working.
What is the best decision your company has made in the last year?
The best decision that we made in the last year, especially during this time of the pandemic, is to realize the opportunity that was created for Epic Group. We have grabbed an opportunity to expand and diversify to various areas, which has helped our growth in the last year.
What keeps you up at night?
How we can continuously get better? This is why Epic Group’s motto is the “Relentless Pursuit of Better.”
What makes you most optimistic?
Besides always being a positive and optimistic personality, I am optimistic that the fourth industrial revolution will bring a lot of respect and talent for the manufacturing industry. The consumers want to know that their goods are manufactured in safe places and in good conditions. I am also optimistic that the supporting service that we have developed around our core activities will make us an agile and nimble supplier of the future, catering to various needs of brands that we serve.
What’s in store for Epic Group for the rest of 2021?
Our 2021 order book is full and we have beaten our forecast, so all eyes are on execution, quality and making sure that we execute to perfection in order to end up with a phenomenal year that we expect.