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Upstream Focus: VT Garment’s Chalumpon Lotharukpong on PPE Pivot and Pandemic Recovery

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, Chalumpon Lotharukpong, managing director of Thailand-based outdoor and sports apparel manufacturer VT Garment Co., Ltd, discusses the financial impact of his company’s move into personal protective equipment and how VT Garment is digitalizing product development and manufacturing.

Chalumpon Lotharukpong VT Garment
Chalumpon Lotharukpong, managing director of VT Garment

Name: Chalumpon Lotharukpong

Title: Managing director

Company: VT Garment Co., Ltd

What’s the number one question you get from your clients now that was never really a consideration before?

Our customers are implementing risk mitigating measures, including active inquiry about lockdowns, health and safety measures, and the vaccination rate at our factory.

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?

Even if Covid-19 becomes just another common cold virus, there are thousands more waiting for us out there, all bristling with pandemic potential. Consequently, we will continue to implement key health and safety measures—namely washing hands, keeping distance and wearing masks.

How are you evaluating potential brand and retail partners differently now compared to before the pandemic?

To mitigate risks, potential brand and retail partners should have omni sales channels—brick-and-mortar as well as online.

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What is the main thing brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) right now that would immediately improve product development?

Brands should seek the opportunity to digitalize their product development processes. This could be achieved through collaborative tools as well as 3D pattern making.

How are you adapting your operations to support quick-turn, small run orders?

We have implemented lean manufacturing as well as a smart factory through digitalization of production processes and monitoring. Machines are now connected in a network, thereby allowing real-time monitoring of machine status (whether it’s active or inactive), production progress and proactive planning and scheduling of production. These implementations have shortened lead time and enhanced productivity by 50 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

When it comes to quality and compliance, what are the biggest challenges?

The pandemic has serious ramification throughout the supply chain. The biggest challenge is ensuring timely delivery of products to customers despite the ongoing myriad supply uncertainties, including blockages at ports, container shortages and factory and vendor closures.

What is the best decision your company has made in the last year?

The best decision was our pivot to personal protective equipment (PPE) design and production, and acquiring certifications including ISO 13485 and CE for our production system and products, respectively.

What makes you most optimistic?

Key markets—notably the U.S.—are recovering at an extremely rapid pace. Sales should return to pre-pandemic level. Our investment in PPE development has paid ample dividends and brought in a new and sustainable source of income.

What’s in store for VT Garment in 2021?

Our two-pronged approach will be further fortified. We will continue to develop our own brands for PPE and tactical gear as well as streamlining our processes through lean manufacturing and smart factory as well as industry 4.0 initiatives.