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Biggest challenge is to make sustainability affordable
Eastman Exports is a leading garment exporter and apparel manufacturer based in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu. Its relatively new in-house brand Huetrap is going sustainable the whole hog. Director Cibi Karthic in conversation with Subir Ghosh.
Please tell me about the birth of this idea. What's the story there? How did the idea germinate?
The idea behind Huetrap was very simple. I wanted to create a brand which offered cool and funky designs at no compromise in quality. There was no strict design philosophy. Whatever design idea we found interesting or inspiring, we would translate that into our collection. So, we launched with a few thousand designs, and let our customers tell us what they liked and what they didn't like. We want to keep doing that in the future and make our customers part of the design process and still deliver the product as quickly as possible. We want to get from the design stage to the market in less than a week.
Implementing any idea is not easy. So, how did you surmount those problems?
In terms of product development, we didn't really face many difficulties. But it took us a while to get the day to day execution running smoothly as we work on a just in time model. We have a very good team; so, it was just a matter of everyone getting used to the routine.
How do you see yourself (as an organisation) now? Did you step in too early? Or maybe too late?
I think we stepped in at the right time. We may have been a bit slow to launch in the beginning because we were trying to do too many things and do them all perfectly. But I don't think we are too late.
From idea to implementation is never smooth. How much of course correction did you have to do?
There have been a lot of corrections from where we started. Everything from the business model, product development, marketing strategy have evolved since we started. For example, we initially wanted to start with the traditional inventory model, but later decided to change just in time to fully utilise the strength of our design team. So, this led to a complete change in the order execution process. We want to be a brand that continually adapts and evolves.
How many people were involved in the conceptualisation of the project?
We are going to put more resources and effort into branding and marketing this year. But so far, we think we are recognised well by our customers. This also directly reflects on our customer returns percentage. We are at around 6 per cent, which is well below the industry average.
How would you sum up your idea and understanding about sustainability?
I think sustainability should be the core of everything we do, both personally and from a business perspective. I think we all owe that responsibility to the planet and human well-being.
And how does your project fit into this understanding/idea?
We want to give our customers a great product that's manufactured in a sustainable and ethical way. And, we don't want to say we are going to charge a premium because its manufactured that way. It must be the standard.
What role do you think that the overall cotton/textiles/apparel/fashion industry can and should play in overall sustainable development?
Overall, I think the whole industry can become a lot more transparent. Becoming more transparent will eventually lead to sustainable development.
Do you think terms like sustainable fashion / green fashion / eco fashion / responsible fashion etc have become small, niche segments?
Yes, I think that's become a niche segment. Almost every major brand right now has a green fashion collection. But I believe this shouldn't just be a niche market. It should become the norm across every garment.
What do you yourself (both as individual and organisation) do to ensure that your own supply chain (both upstream and downstream, as applicable) is remains sustainable?
Our primary objective is to be proactive when it comes to sustainability. We don't want to wait, and we want to be the first to try and develop sustainable processess. We work on the 3 'P' principle. People, Planet, Profit.
The term "sustainability" has also become a greenwashing tool. Without transparency, sustainability means zilch. So, how transparent are you?
I agree that without transparency, sustainability means nothing. We try to make every process as transparent as possible. We source from Eastman Exports, who believe in a transparent and sustainable manufacturing process.
Our products are dyed using 90 per cent recycled water and just 10 per cent fresh water. So, every kg of fabric is dyed with less than 5 litres of fresh water (30-80 litre is the global average).
Efficient processes also lead to 10 per cent less energy consumed during the manufacturing process. And around 20 per cent of the energy used across the production process is from renewable sources.
Do you think Indian citizens are lagging behind in terms of awareness and lifestyle changes?
I don't think we are lagging behind a lot in terms of awareness. But in a lot of instances, being sustainable comes with an additional financial cost. For example, treating the dirty water in the dyeing plant is expensive. But, we have to do it because if we don't, the cost is a dirtier future. In India a big part of the population cannot afford a completely sustainable lifestyle even though they may be aware of the consequences. I think that's the biggest challenge- to make sustainability affordable.
Published on: 25/04/2018
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