2020 was a forgettable year for businesses. Importantly, it gave time to the apparel manufacturers as well as the technology companies to ponder upon inefficiencies that have existed for years in the value-chain and needed to be addressed. During the period, factories spent time to seriously identify where they could implement technologies and got themselves ready for operating in a COVID-19 business era, while the technology suppliers put more time on research and development acitivites and propelled their pending projects. This all had to happen as there are projections that mass production will no longer be an option for survival as order volumes are reducing and, without any regard for quality and sustainability, the industry needs to focus on sustainable business methods – both from the producers and the fashion brands.
Endorsing the same, Alberto Guerreschi, CEO of Vibemac – an Italian trendsetting sewing technology company for decades in the denim sector – opined in a recent conversation with Team Apparel Resources that the global demand for clothing will decrease in years to come, but at the same time, the demand for value-added products will increase, which will certainly be linked to sustainability. Alberto is too accurate when he says this as, amidst uncertainties in key apparel retail markets, end-consumers can surely be seen spending on value-added products that are produced sustainably.
Both apparel brands and well as manufacturers are aware of this evolving trend therefore they are gearing up for an incremental growth all because the industry seems to be having no choice other than investing in technologies that help them carve out unique pathways to recover from crisis. And, Vibemac has yet again sensed the need of the market and has accordingly carried its research & development activities in last one-and-a-half years to introduce affordable yet high-on-qaulity-and-productivity sewing machines for the apparel manufacturing industry. This diversification is very timely as the company strongly felt that the rising costs of sewing machines and longer delivery times had been real challenges in the last few years, and, in post-pandemic period, both prices and speed-to-market will play major role in a company’s long-term growth as well as profitability. Vibemac is also in process of launching some highly-advanced attachments for its automats and the same will add more value to its niche machine segment for high-end customers.
When Team Apparel Resources approached Alberto Guerreschi to understand how the company is moving forward with its strategies in different markets in such a challening time, what all innovations it is working on, and how has the response been for for its latest launch – Basic Line and Silver Line, among other key issues, we got greater insights than we expected. Here are some excerpts.
AR: The manufacturing industry shrank in 2020 and many exporters were reluctant in investing in technology…You realised the need for direct cost-effective solutions in a tough time and came up with Silver and Basic sewing lines. What is the response you are seeing in newly launched low-cost and high-end sewing lines?
Alberto: 2020 had been a difficult year for many producers, but despite everything, many have decided to continue investing to be ready and ahead at the end of this situation. Our new Silver and Basic proposals have had a good response and I must admit that the Silver line has had more positive feedback than we thought. Several customers have contacted us directly. For the Basic Series, we are gradually increasing our presence. It is a different product from what we usually deal with and a different job for a salesperson to sell basic units rather than automatic ones. The technical feedback from customers has been very good, and thanks to some customers, we have had excellent ideas for new unit upgrades. Rising costs of the machines and longer delivery times have been real challenges for us in the last few years. In fact, these challenges also limited our growth to a certain extent. Now we have a great production momentum and we can offer much more, becoming a unique partner in sewing for our customers.
AR: What are your plans to get going in the rapidly changing apparel manufacturing landscape?
Alberto: What we have noticed in recent years is a strong increase in customer demand for complete ‘turn-key’ projects. This is why we have invested in new product lines and are expanding our staff with manufacturing engineers and industry experts. A strong emphasis is on the integration of Industry 4.0 and we had identified this back in 2014 when we launched the dedicated Vibemac systems for our teams across. We are still the only company able to offer proper machinery service reports from almost a decade ago.
Sometimes when we show a customer that a particular model of the machines in their facility was serviced by our technician on a specific date, and the maintenance manager from the factory approved it with a digital signature, the customers understand what we mean by becoming partners in a strategic alliance. The very same data has helped our R&D to constantly innovate the machines. Automation helps and will help a lot in improving efficiency and productivity, but let’s not forget that human know-how is the basis of everything.
AR: How much productivity the ‘large capacity hooks’ in new machines increase as compared to traditional hooks?
Alberto: I must say the the productivity is double now. Large capacity hooks are not something we have created but these hooks were already present in the market. We adapted this technology to our Basic units since those are specifically developed for denim and Medium- Heavy duty, and it’s important to keep the highest efficiency rate, especially when using thicker threads.
AR: We know there is a special ‘undo’ feature in new machines to reverse the last stitch that adds more technical value to the units. How does this ‘undo’ feature work?
Alberto: As I’m not a technician or an engineer, I would explain the process in simple words… Every time we are working on a spreadsheet, we spend hours making something great, then we make a simple mistake, only one, that messes up everything. What do we do in that case? We click on undo button, and the software will bring us back to the situation before the mistake happened. At that moment we feel relieved. The concept is the same for the sewing units, when an operator makes a mistake in a stitching operation, they don’t need to panic! Also, there is no need to call a technician or supervisor as the operators themselves can use scissors or unstitch everything. All they have to do is just push undo button, and the sewing will move 1 step back de-stitching the last stitch done.
AR: Vibemac initially came up with 6 basic sewing machines and 4 silver machines. Are there more machines under development? If yes, by when they will be launched? Is it an indication of moving away from a niche brand to a generic brand like some Japanese ones? How the basic sewing machines will be priced in comparison to Jack equivalent models?
Alberto: First things first – we now have many more than just 4 machines in our Silver Line and we are very close to offering the complete range of machines from our manufacturing in Asia.
We do not compare ourselves to others, but we think about creating added value in our solutions. The lines are constantly evolving and new models will arrive very soon. We want to guarantee complete and satisfactory solutions to clients, becoming a unique partner for denim sewing. The pricing is different from Jack models, even if the design may look the same, the units have been modified and changed specifically for denim products. What our customers already know is that we have designed the machines keeping in mind our denim heritage.
AR: How are countries like India and Bangladesh responding in terms of technology adoption post-pandemic?
Alberto: Unfortunately, it is too early to talk about post-pandemic situation in these countries! In the Western continues, thanks to mass vaccinations which derived from strong economic and political power, post-pandemic scenario has come up while the rest of the world has been forgotten and left behind. We are doing what we can to support in our small way by ensuring VBM employees adequate protection, access to vaccines and medical treatments when needed in these countries. I would like to take the opportunity also to publicly thanks our VBM teams around the world. They continue to assure the assistance and services to the customers even during the hardest times.
Despite the crisis, customers do plan and are planning for the future and this creates a positive attitude. There are several readymade projects, which will be implemented as soon as conditions permit.
AR: How is Vibemac’s collaboration with Jack going? Is your new facility in Jack’s intelligent manufacturing unit in China completed? What products Vibemac will manufacture in this unit?
Alberto: The collaboration is progressing well, unfortunately, the pandemic has limited the possibilities of meeting in China and Italy, but we have managed to work together remotely, reaching important goals and developments.
AR: What are other recent developments of Vibemac that address the most challenging issues (such as productivity and efficiency) of the apparel manufacturers? Can we see more use of automatic loaders and unloaders in your machines which you already use in upgraded pocket hemmers?
Alberto: Certainly! The loader technology will soon be the protagonist for new operations and solutions, as well as an important technological upgrade. We cannot disclose too much right now, but we wanted to test ourselves with solutions in which no one usually invests. There will be some big news very soon as we are in the prototype testing phase, and especially our new unit we strongly believe will be a market disrupter.