The 150-year-old denim trade has turned more exciting with the recent addition of Vietnam and Bangladesh to the list of competitive sourcing hubs. Peculiarly enough, while Vietnam is specializing in providing high-end, value-added, and differential denim, Bangladesh is thriving in the high-volume, mass manufactured denims. “Our territories and niche are clearly marked. We are looking at offering to the denim industry a prowess equivalent to Turkey’s,” says Md. Ifthikar, Production Director, Sai-Tex, who has spent a decade working in the global denim industry. In an exclusive interaction with StitchWorld at their impressive manufacturing unit on the outskirts of HCMC, Ifthikar unveils how Sai-Tex’s pioneering efforts bear the hologram of each and every latest development.
The remarkable journey of Sai-Tex in the last decade was steadfastly focused on acing every possible aspect – product, infrastructure, machinery, processes, and sustainability. Ifthikar, like all denim enthusiasts, is driven by an infectious passion for denim. Being a through and through operations professional, Ifthikar’s passion surpasses the aesthetics and product development aspect, and manifests in providing value to the buyers with functionality-oriented product designs and running watertight operations.
In denim, the rich possibilities that can be brought out with an innovative concoction of chemicals, scrappers, laser beams, pumice stones, etc. are no secret. “The possibilities are so myriad that sometimes one comes up with a fabulous wash detail but forgets to keep track of the ingredients and processes that went into it,” jibes Ifthikar. Speaking of wash developments, the lab at Sai-Tex, equipped with almost every technology available in the market today, is a designer’s delight. The pulsating design vibe is palpable when one goes through the material library stocked with striking denim swatches such as differently coloured fabric’s right side and wrong side. The result is not achieved with differently coloured warps and wefts – instead the fabric is treated first with resin and then with different settings of laser applications on both sides. The factory’s finishing floor is replete with operators reproducing other such similar intricate finishes with lasers, sandpaper, scrapers, etc. on denim jeans loaded on legger dummies.
Although a dedicated denim manufacturer for the product range with FOB range of US $ 18-22, Ifthikar simplistically refers to the products as basic 5-pocket jeans. In fact, he believes that a 5-pocket jeans is as basic as a denim bottomwear can get. “Value is added nonetheless in three ways – with the raw materials used, comfort provided to the wearer through smallest of design interventions, and the fact that the products are being manufactured at our plant,” he inputs. Ifthikar elaborates on the comfort provided to the wearer with a G-Star (one of the most renowned buyer from the company) jean.
The inseam is not done with a mere overlock stitch, instead it uses serging of individual plies, joining both the plies with a chainstitch, and one top stitch.
Such a construction ensures the seam does not twist when worn, washed, or ironed. “These are the small things that add to the quality and wearer’s comfort. This instead gives a clean finish, a rich look and represents the value we provide to our customers,” Ifthikar avers.
While the focus on innovating and designing is definitive, the next direction is blending innovation with sustainability. The washes and styles finalized at Sai-Tex for G-Star’s next line are getting the PP bleached look without using PP sprays. Ifthikar is particularly pleased with the development. “This is a landmark achievement since it is imminent that PP sprays will be phased out of mass production just as sandblasting was. We have superseded the general market graph with this accomplishment. Next year, around this time, when these styles enter the production floor, our success and work culture will charge the atmosphere like never before,” he shares. The R&D team at Sai-Tex has also been successful at devising substitute procedures that utilize only one wash for erstwhile procedures that utilized a minimum of three washes.
The Production Floor
The value-added product has supported the company to ensure that there is no compromise on product quality and settling for mediocre or traditional unproductive and inefficient systems.
The entire factory’s performance can be accessed by Ifthikar at any given time using the G-Pro RFID based real time data collection systems integrated with FastReact ERP. “Factories generally use manual challans and stay stuck in the rut of follow ups of stale information. We on the other hand have cut discrepancies by 70-80%,” he shares.
Sai-Tex has done away with paper-based production reporting system. Instead, there are computer terminals at shopfloor with restricted user-access, every supervisor from cutting to sewing to finishing department keys-in the production figures and the MIS makes available the latest status immediately. “All this ensures that I am not dependent on my laundry managers and don’t have to wait till 10 O’ clock in the morning to know what is the status,” he reasons.
Sai-Tex has carved its reputation as the sculptor of the Vietnamese denim manufacturing industry. The factory – a monumental expression of Sanjeev Bahl’s (President, Sai-Tex) vision of sustainability and manufacturing excellence – stands tall in the city of Tinh Dong Nai.
Much like the industry norm for complex products, Sai-Tex deals with small order quantities (3,500 pieces) of value-added products and yet the average style changeover time at the factory is one hour – a staggeringly low statistic. The impressive feat comes on the back of implementation of Kanban, Supermarkets, Central Part Units, and Automation, a judicious combination of management tools and technology.
“You will see that for any product, in 9 out of 10 garments, the back is different and the front similar or vice-a-versa. So, technically the net style changeover effect should be on the section preparing the changed panels,” Ifthikar avers. Correspondingly, he devised Central Part Units, i.e. instead of a single assembly line, where there are three types of lines – front, back, and assembly. Each line type has mutually balanced targets and a Supermarket exists between assembly and parts. Alongside this, the changeover team looks after areas such as threads, presser foots, needles, etc. to be changed. “Above all, the assembly never runs out of loading,” Ifthikar highlights.
The detailing of technology was evident from the floor to ceiling of the factory. Two huge eight feet diameter ceiling fans making slow rotations resulted in ample air circulation for cooling the large shopfloor with slow breeze.
The benefits of this system are manifested as time and material handling savings as well. In conventional assembly lines, an operator working on front also transports the back. CPUs help eliminate this transportation wastage. Talking about the time saving, Ifthikar shares that for a product with Total SAM of 14 minutes (5 minutes: front, 3 minutes: back, and 6 minutes: assembly), the sewing throughput time is brought down by 37 per cent to mere 8 minutes.
Traces of automation at the Sai-Tex premises reflect true need and tangible savings, especially in the conveyorized hanger that picks up the freshly laundered jeans, passes them through the curing chamber, and thereafter takes them up to the roof for drying (in hanging condition) and within 10-15 minutes brings the pieces down to floor. This reduces the residual moisture in the garment for subsequent drying. “We look at automation because we need to be very cost-effective. Today sourcing hubs are thriving because of cheap labour. The ones who are passionate about the product do not appreciate this status quo. Besides, more labour, implies more complications, more human touch, and less consistency,” Ifthikar argues.
In a striking paradigm, the production teams and technicians are held responsible for quality at Sai-Tex. Questions related to quality lapses are asked to the production team. “Quality department is responsible for timely highlighting of troubles, and if the production teams wait till the QC highlights the shortcomings, then what are the functions of production teams?” asks Ifthikar. He further sheds light on the nipping in the bud approach to quality pitfalls with the reason that nothing hurts productivity like poor quality, not even machine breakdowns, lack of skilled labour or absenteeism.
Yet, although the buyer’s QC manual mandate one QC for every 25 operators, Ifthikar has deployed Roving QCs and in-line QCs at every front, back, and assembly line. “Front and back lines’ output serves as an input to the assembly process and we have to ensure that it is perfect so that when it goes to assembly, it does not come back,” he explains. Another factor that adds to Sai-Tex’s competitive approach to quality is that the factory does not outsource any washing procedures.
For days to come…
As TPP regime kicks in, Sai-Tex will be ready with a fabric processing unit by next year. In the first phase, the factory will be ready with the finishing infrastructure. “With this we will be able to control wash defects, and above all not depend so much on bleaching,” Ifthikar shares. Eventually, in five years the plant might go on to include weaving infrastructure.