Once competiting solely on having the lowest labor costs, Bangladesh has been transforming itself into a nation where quality and efficiency are giving it a competitive advantage.
The move is being driven by the country’s leading spinners, weavers, and garment manufacturers who are investing in sophisticated equipment and management systems.
Malek Spinning Ltd., a division of the New Asia Group, is one of those forward thinking enterprises. The group is a vertically integrated operation that goes from spinning to ready-made-garment production, and produces apparel for more than 25 of the world’s leading brands in Europe and the U.S.
The group has its own knitting and weaving mills, and does its own dyeing as well. The fabric it produces is used in its own garment production. Its products range from jersey knits, sweaters, seamless activewear, denim and intimate apparel.
Malek Spinning has 64,000 spindles with a capacity of 35,000 kg per day. The company’s ready-made garment unit produces 130,000 pieces of knit sportswear per day, 50,000 jersey knit garments per day and 90,000 pieces of intimate apparel daily.
By controlling the entire supply chain – from spinning to finished garment – lead times are shorter, quality is assured, wastage is minimised and there is traceability throughout the whole chain.
Eye On Efficiency
While Bangladesh labor costs are still lower than in other Asian nations, wages are rising. The mimimum wage increased 51 percent in December and competition for skilled labor continues to boost up actual wages.
“We’ve been investing in automation in order to reduce labor costs, but also to gain greater efficiency, reduce off-standard products and reduce energy consumption,” said A. Matin Chowdhury, Managing Director.
“As part of our continued modernization process, in our denim spinning unit, we are changing some of our open-end spinning to ring spinning, because ring is now more popular.” he added.
Key areas of automation include auto doffing, material handling, storage, and machine data. Using machine data has enabled Malek to centralize some of its decision making, which helps to reduce production time and raise quality.
The company’s cutting operation for garmenting is now fully automated, reducing human-error and increasing efficiency.
“We now have machines that combine several processes in one machine. This reduces the number of stations, energy, labor and floor space. It also maintains the quality because it reduces human error. And the machines can run 24 hours a day,” he said.
For example, a denim pocket used to require several operations. Now the entire opertion, from the folding , the sewing, the triming and so forth can be done by one machine.
Achieving Consistant High Quality
One of the ways that Malek and its sister companies differentiate themselves is through providing consistant quality. Buyers continue to raise quality standards as consumers become increasingly demanding about workmanship, durability, and hand feel.
One of the ways that Malek ensures the quality of its products is through its choice of cotton.
“We started buying US cotton 20 years ago. The buying process is very straight forward. Delivery is simple and easy to plan. We wanted to simplify our cotton sourcing and buying US cotton has made this possible,” said Mr. Chowdhury, explaining that since the management doesn’t have to have to spend a lot of time sourcing cotton, it can focus on more value-added activities to take the business forward.
“In addition, the quality is reliable. There’s a uniformity that comes from buying from a single source. US cotton is free of contamination. Each bale is tested and rated. It’s that combination of uniformity, reliability, and traceability that separate US cotton from other cotton in the market,” he said.
Mr. Chowdhury has alwayas worked directly with the US growers, a relationship that has resulted in his getting a very stable supply of the best quality cotton.
Staying Ahead of the Market
“The biggest challenge right now is the global market and the global supply and demand. We are facing a situation where there are too many suppliers and too few buyers. This is putting continued pressure on spinners, weavers, and garment manufacturers,” said Mr. Chowdhury.
Increased compliance standards are raising the cost for suppliers as well, which requires us to be more diligent at each and every step of the production process.
Malek’s management team is continually looking for ways to improve their operations and stay one step ahead of what their customers need, trying to anticipating what they will want next – and being prepared to deliver on it.
“We are always thinking about what things buyers will use as criteria to make their buying decisions in the future. Right now, sustainability is one of those things. So we are trying to find ways to increase sustainability in our operations,” he said.
“The only way forward is through more innovation and better quality. We need to continually develop new products and to raise our quality and efficiency. Otherwise, we cannot survive,” he added.