What links between fashion and technology are new to the MAS Holdings tool set?
MAS Holdings has always believed in utilizing technology as a source of competitive advantage. The operational/manufacturing aspects such as CAD/CAM technologies were used at a very early stage in our organizations life-cycle. Today we are looking at Bonding, Silicon, No Sew, Hot Melt & a host of new technologies that will redefine garmenting as we know it. MAS Holdings has established a dedicated Research & Innovation Center primarily focused on creating newness to the customer, a factor which we feel is critical for business sustenance.
At the ‘front end’ of the business we have embarked on initiatives for better integration with our partners which will enable improved data gathering/forecasting and speedy dissemination of technical data both ways. The next step is to move into virtual design systems and 3D body-scan technology that will link us seamlessly to our own overseas design studios and customers.
Among trends and issues to watch out this year include regional free trade arrangements, trade restrictions, and emerging markets as potential markets. What is your outlook on these particular areas?
MAS Holdings has a breadth of Customers/Product Ranges that enable us to play across multiple markets and demographics. Currently our main customer base is in the USA with UK being the next in terms of volume. However with the strengthening of the EU, we have moved into strategic partnerships with a few of the main EU brands as well. The GSP+ is a key advantage which makes Sri Lanka attractive to potential buyers from this region.
We have been able to utilize the Free Trade Agreements with India to embark upon a ‘regional strategy’ where we will look at leveraging the competitive advantages of each location in terms of manufacturing capability, sourcing strength technical know how to and configure a winning combination for our customer.
Will mass fashion trends along with cross connections between different cultures; intersect between international borders this year making manufacturing even more efficient?
In certain products such as casual and active-wear, we have seen a universal growth that transcends national/cultural boundaries. This has led to companies such as NIKE, Adidas to form partnerships to meet this demand.
While in the intimate apparel categories we may have certain regions being slower to adopt more ‘sexier’ products. But even there the greater awareness brought by both traditional ‘push’ media and ‘new media’ (ex: the VS fashion show is among the most watched on the net) and the greater brand recognition have increased their penetration into more markets. More affluent young buyers anywhere in the world mean more opportunity. Consider the success story of VS PINK. Consider the success of the Thong in the mainstream over the past 2 decades, and the acceptance of categories traditionally thought of as ‘inner-wear’, as ‘outer-wear’ (ex: Cami’s, bra tops etc) even in traditional Asian societies.
These have fuelled the growth in these market segments, and have also been partly responsible for our own rapid growth over the past few years. When mass customization is realized at the front end, it translates into long running orders for our plants. This means economies of scale & higher productivity. We’re also worked heavily on newer and leaner operational models (MOS) and lower cost bases to further leverage on this advantage.
Do conventional marketing rules apply to the apparel industry from concept to consumer and back?
Yes of course. The conventional marketing rule of revolving your processes around the consumer is very much applicable in the context of apparel. In order to be a preferred vendor in this competitive industry, we are expected to be in pulse with the end consumer, observe fashion trends & offer designs which will win in the market. Being a mere tailor shop will not be sustainable. Companies need to be market oriented whilst providing a design to delivery solution.
The other side to this is that fashion content is more dynamic than typical consumer goods. When working from ‘concept to delivery’, we face a similar high-risk factor to the movie/entertainment industry (in the movie industry, only 1/4th of theatrical releases make a profit in the theatres, that 1/4th effectively has to make enough to cover the other 3/4th, and also the loss makers also make back money from home video, TV rights, foreign markets etc).
Sri Lanka sports the slogan ‘garments without guilt’. What does this explains in relation with ‘guilt’ that could be associated with the industry? Is it merely stating that Sri Lankan employees are paid well and therefore the destination is not where ‘cheap labor is found’?
Globally, there is a perception that most apparel is made in sweatshops and exploitative conditions. Sri Lanka has distanced herself from this position – having always insisted on and maintained high standards. This is more than the pay – it encompasses an overall approach to move away from exploitative practices where we look at work hours, work conditions, health & safety activities, wellbeing etc.
In our company for instance, there are wide ranging initiatives ranging from educational opportunities to artistic and other skill development, extensive workshops and facilities related to encouraging healthier lifestyles, counseling and mentoring programmes. Our signature programme ‘Women Go Beyond’, which won the AAFP award, actively promotes and supports higher education and career progression, with financial incentives.
For MAS Intimates, this approach has brought rich dividends. Our success depends on highly skilled workers who are passionate about the company. It is the workforce of this caliber that can leverage our lean production methodology MOS, and make us highly competitive in the global marketplace. We have made a strategic decision to move away from chasing costs to improving efficiencies by developing and looking after our workforce.
DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.