India-based Meenal Malhotra caught the fashion bug after her MBA stint in Finance and Marketing. After gaining some insights into the fashion industry whilst working with Masaba, the well-known fashion designer from India, she decided to set up a factory of her own: R and M Enterprises. Fashion Insiders caught up with her to find out more about what made her set up her own garment manufacturing unit in India in 2010.
What made you start a garment manufacturing factory, and how easy or difficult was it to start your business?
Having my own business was something I always wanted. Whilst working for Masaba, I realize how well I could optimize her cost of production. Henceforth it was natural for me to open a production unit. It wasn’t that difficult to start my business. I’ve been blessed with a supportive family so certain aspects were taken care of. But then again, you never grow unless you encounter failures. So the journey has been exciting so far.
What challenges did you face in India as a factory owner?
You should know, India as a country, is very diversified. Each person comes from different backgrounds and has a different mindset and skills, to begin with. I wouldn’t deny that this wasn’t a problem. Plus, the changing political scenario and other economic reforms were a bit of a dipping side for me. The introduction of a new tax system, for example, affected every industry while the people figured out how it would impact their businesses.
What were your biggest challenges in the beginning?
With ever-changing trends in the fashion industry, I have to keep updating my designs as well as make sure that the quality does not deteriorate in the process. I had difficulties in finding skilled workers suited to our manufacturing needs. But I stayed very level-headed right from the start. Every client wants quick solutions at the best prices but I ensured to give a quality product so that value overpowers price point. Finding good resources and high-quality fabrics were problematic in the beginning.
What are the current challenges you think the industry faces?
According to me, it’s over-producing cheap clothes. Sustainability is an important issue for everyone involved in the industry and especially on the garment manufacturing side.
Are you doing anything as a business to be sustainable?
Most of my sourcing and procuring is done at the client’s end so I don’t have a say on that. For the rest, I try to guide our clients when they ask for advice, encouraging them to be selective and responsible in their choices. Also, we pay our workers well and go to extra lengths in ensuring that they have the best tools at their disposal.
What’s the biggest mistake you have made to date and how did you fix it?
In the beginning, I had difficulties in setting my priorities right. For some reason, I employed staff who had low to medium skill sets and was planning on training them on my own. Gradually, I realized how crucial it is to have the right kind of people who understand you and your clients’ needs well. I ended up replacing most of them.
Who is your typical customer?
There is nothing typical about our customers. We cater to a wide variety of customers; from personal Indian clients to students who want their college collections made or big export orders. Generally, export houses have a minimum quantity criteria, but we don’t have that. We are happy to cater to smaller quantities and sampling orders as well.
What makes a great customer?
It’s very important that the customer is able to convey clearly what they want. We have had customers with no idea about what they were doing and that creates complications.
Do you have a nightmare customer story?
Well, I won’t say nightmare – but there was one client who requested a piece which, by all means, I tried to express as well; wouldn’t suit their taste. But since they were a personal client, they were hell-bent on it and hence I had to create it. The end product feelings were what I had and the client hadn’t hoped for. It was a complete disaster – a waste of time and manpower for us. We then had to make several changes to bring it to reality. Lesson learned! I quote this example to every personal client who refuses to remain open-minded or listen to our advice.
What’s the craziest product you have ever had a request for?
As a design student as well as the owner of an established garment manufacturing unit in India, I need to keep exploring means to tackle challenges that come my way. I remember once, we had to make kids’ hair accessories for an existing client. Although the request wasn’t a complicated one because we had never before produced such an accessory it was difficult for my team to comprehend the way forward. After much thought and energy, we finally delivered the product, which was much appreciated by the client. Since it brought so much learning to my team, they were more than happy to fulfil the same for our other regular clients as well.
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when working with factories?
I have seen designers not giving them space to work or giving incomplete instructions. Most often than not, they push the factories to complete the order before time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and everyone works with different frequencies. Everything must be taken care of, right from the line sheets to sketches and patterns. I would advise them to take time in selecting the sample fabric and then stick to it. Every detail is to be looked at so that we don’t go back-and-forth and compromise quality or delay the entire process.
If you could change one thing about the fashion industry – what would that be?
Fast and irresponsible fashion.
How do you see the future of garment manufacturing – are there any technologies or changes that are making an impact with long-lasting changes?
Currently, due to the need for large quantities and the fast fashion cycle, many factories use automated machines for cutting and stitching or pay the workers less, which is not a very conducive way of working. If that changes and if we place importance on quality rather than quantity it will help the fashion industry evolve.
What does “success” mean to you?
Happiness! If you aren’t happy with what you are doing then success will be a blur.
If you can give one lesson to fashion entrepreneurs – what would that be?
It’s a tough long road with lots of speed bumps along the way, but with hard work and patience, you will definitely reach the highway.
Here is an insightful read about ‘5 reasons why a Fashion Factory ignores Designers.’