CON­TIN­U­OUSLY GROW­ING FIRST STEPS BABY­WEAR EX­PANDS NOW TO SRI LANKA

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In the last 16 years of op­er­a­tions, First Steps Baby­wear has in­creased its – in­fra­struc­ture more than 100 fold, while fo­cus­ing on sin­gle ded­i­cated prod­uct cat­e­gory–baby­wear. The growth has been sig­nif­i­cant, with the com­pany work­ing with many pres­ti­gious clients apart from the UK only as ini­tially con­ceived, ex­pand­ing from 1 fac­tory to 7 fac­to­ries all in and around Ban­ga­lore. Out of these, two are in the process to get green cer­ti­fi­ca­tion…; and now one more mile­stone is be­ing added in this jour­ney, that is ex­pand­ing into Sri Lanka. In a can­did dis­cus­sion with

Ap­parel On­line, Richard ‘D’ Souza, Di­rec­tor of Projects and CMD of the com­pany, touches upon the var­i­ous as­pects of the com­pany’s growth and fu­ture plans.

Founded by Man­ish Pasi in 2002 with a mod­est strength of only 30 ma­chines, First Steps Baby­wear now has 3,700 stitch­ing ma­chines with over 9,000 em­ploy­ees. With a to­tal of 7 units, [3 in Ban­ga­lore, 4 in Ho­sur (Tamil Nadu) which are also nearby to Ban­ga­lore], the com­pany cur­rently pro­duces 54 mil­lion pieces per year. Till re­cently, the com­pany was work­ing with more than 40 buy­ers mostly from the UK, like M&S, Mother­care, John Lewis, but it has now en­tered into the US mar­ket also. Richard counts many rea­sons which con­trib­uted to such an im­pres­sive growth for the com­pany. One be­ing that baby­wear is a rel­a­tively re­ces­sion-free in­dus­try. “From day one, baby­wear is a grow­ing prod­uct cat­e­gory. The vol­umes may re­duce but sta­bil­ity does al­ways come through,” says Richard. Strong over­all knowl­edge of the founders and core team of the com­pany, be it in the prod­uct, mar­ket or man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­tin­u­ous in­vest­ment in ad­vanced in­fra­struc­ture across all de­part­ments has made

First Steps Baby­wear dif­fer­ent from oth­ers in the cat­e­gory. The com­pany has cen­tralised cut­ting (in­fra­struc­ture from Lec­tra, FK Group, Ger­ber) and in-house em­broi­dery (30 ma­chines with 28 heads each, all from Baru­dan). This in­fra­struc­ture is utilised with the sup­port of prop­erly trained work­ers. “We are work­ing at 75 per cent ef­fi­ciency on all our prod­uct lines,” adds Richard. Sig­nif­i­cantly, 80 per cent of the prod­ucts pro­duced are from fash­ion lines while the bal­ance 20 per cent are from ba­sic lines. The com­pany hires all kinds of op­er­a­tors be it fresh, semi-skilled or fully-skilled. They ed­u­cate and train the work­ers about its sys­tems with the help of two in-house skill train­ing cen­tres. Var­i­ous lev­els of sup­port to the work­ers, is also a strength of the com­pany like it pro­vides doorstep trans­porta­tion free to its work­ers who come from a widely spread area of nearly 30 to 40 vil­lages; the com­pany is also pay­ing an av­er­age of 13 per cent an­nual bonus to its work­ers.

Strong fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity is an­other ad­van­tage to the com­pany as well as its work­ers, as two of its fac­to­ries are in the process of re­ceiv­ing green cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The ex­pe­ri­ence of these two fac­to­ries are be­ing im­ple­mented in the other fac­to­ries and in the long run, all the fac­to­ries of the com­pany will be turn­ing green. The com­pany has also in­stalled a 750 kW so­lar power rooftop plant, all ma­chines are fit­ted with servo mo­tors, com­plete LED sys­tem and eco-friendly equip­ment

are be­ing used there. Richard shared, “We strongly be­lieve in sus­tain­abil­ity and com­pletely con­trol any kind of wastage, no mat­ter what­ever or how­ever it is.”

Why Sri Lanka…

With all such pos­i­tiv­ity and strength, why the com­pany is mov­ing to

Sri Lanka at this point of time, when from day one all of its op­er­a­tions are in and around Ban­ga­lore, is a ques­tion that Richard an­swers with logic. “We chose Sri Lanka as out next man­u­fac­tur­ing base mainly to get the duty draw­back ben­e­fit, as Sri Lanka is of­fer­ing 10 per cent duty draw­back; this will help us to be com­pet­i­tive. In the ini­tial stage, the tar­get is to pro­duce 0.5 mil­lion pieces per month in Sri Lanka, while within a year, it will be more than dou­ble as our tar­get is to man­u­fac­ture 12 mil­lion pieces per an­num.” He fur­ther adds that In­dia’s pro­duc­tion will not be im­pacted due to Sri Lankan ini­tia­tive. The Sri Lankan ini­tia­tive is a re­sult of a re­cently drafted joint ven­ture with Sisalu Fash­ions, and will soon be a full-fledged unit with all cut­ting, em­broi­dery, print­ing, and stitch­ing… all things will be in-house. As a strat­egy, the pro­duc­tion of ba­sic prod­uct lines is be­ing shifted there. “Though Sri Lanka is some­where 15 to 20 per cent more ex­pen­sive than In­dia due to higher labour cost, qual­ity re­jec­tion is com­par­a­tively less in Sri Lanka as they boost more skilled op­er­a­tors in the coun­try. This is also one of the main ad­van­tages of set­ting up unit in Sri Lanka,” con­cludes Richard.

Why only UK, so far

So far, the com­pany was ex­port­ing to the UK only as it was get­ting enough vol­ume from the UK buy­ers. But with re­cent de­vel­op­ments, as some UK-based brands have faced the heat of the Brexit move­ment, now the com­pany has en­tered the US mar­ket and is work­ing with brands like Carter. Most of the clients of the com­pany are well-es­tab­lished brands be­cause huge vol­umes are of­fered only by big­ger brands.

As the UK is the main mar­ket for the com­pany, it has an of­fice there which pro­vides sup­port for prod­uct de­vel­op­ment & de­sign sup­port. It’s a mar­ket­ing hub for all UK based clients. It as­sists the In­dia op­er­a­tions with con­ver­sions of de­signs & or­ders seam­lessly. 6 years ago, the com­pany started its do­mes­tic brand ‘Miniklub’, and as of now, it has 600+ out­lets across In­dia with 14 ex­clu­sive EBOs. There is a ded­i­cated fac­tory for do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion and the com­pany is en­joy­ing good growth in the do­mes­tic mar­ket, also.

Richard ‘D’ Souza, Di­rec­tor of Projects and CMD, First Steps Baby­wear

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