CONTINUOUSLY GROWING FIRST STEPS BABYWEAR EXPANDS NOW TO SRI LANKA
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