The unpreparedness of the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic has shaken businesses drastically. The fashion industry, particularly, is finding it difficult to plan ahead as just when China recovered, the outspread of COVID-19 worsened in Europe and the US, the two biggest apparel markets in the world. The duration and impact levels of the pandemic are still under speculation, but it seems the fashion industry has a long way to go in order to recover from the damage done by this outbreak. However, there are industry stakeholders taking responsibility to safeguard the industry and its people. Being one of the front runners, Ram Sareen, Founder, Tukatech, Inc. sensed the shortcomings that the fashion and medical industry would face amid the COVID-19 outspread, and he, along with his team, geared up to help the entire industry exactly with what they needed. During his conversation with Apparel Resources, he sheds light on current business scenario, his role to uplift the industry, and predictions about future.
AR: As 2020 has started on a negative note due to COVID-19, how has Tukatech been impacted due to this pandemic?
Ram: None of the businesses are spared with losses of different kinds, except the businesses catering to essential services and making medical supplies. We are fortunate to be able to take advantage of the plethora of technology available for businesses. Our global team is now working remotely, but we are still here for our customers who need support. We are making it easier than ever for anyone in the apparel industry to make digital patterns from anywhere at any time with cloud-based licenses for TUKAcad. This lets them run CAD pattern making, grading and marker making system from any computer, even if they are working from home. This has become our top priority, so businesses can stay afloat, especially when so much of the apparel industry is now dedicated to manufacturing vital personal protective equipment.
The massive changes are taking place in every step of old life, it is happening globally in every sector. The shuffling is so unexpected for many that none of us ever imagined this to really happen. I have never seen such demand for change in my life. Fashion schools are turning to distance learning; businesses are finding ways to work from home to add value; Zoom, Skype, FaceTime video conferences, even webinars, have found their way to have new work style in many companies. 2020 will produce many tech savvy companies and technologies that will be the new normal way to run a lean and informed company.
AR: Post COVID-19, the fashion industry is not going to be the same again. One of the changes that we’ll see is less spending power, less buying, and a rise in affordable clothing. What other changes will be there that you can see in both retail and manufacturing sectors?
Ram: I have been saying since 2018 that we will produce 30 to 40 per cent less garments by 2023, sadly that forecast got accelerated and we can see that drop in 2020. Many old timers will just close up; they will not go bankrupt but they’ll take advantage of this crisis. To make a new business model, to fix the old machinery, they need to invest in technology, machinery, automation, engineers – and that requires commitment. Many of these privately held companies are in their late 50s and 60s, made their money and are not ready to commit for another 10 to 20 years. Their children may, but I doubt it. The new will be defined by many start-up companies, many new businesses. Local manufacturing and nearshoring will play a bigger role in the supply chain. This pandemic has exposed how vulnerable the industry has become by relying so heavily on China. The supply chain disruptions started before the virus became a pandemic.
In the United States, there has already been a big movement toward bringing things back to “Made in the USA.” I believe after the dust settles the remaining apparel companies will start looking into alternatives to China, and many new American manufacturers will pop up to fill the gaps.
This is a great opportunity for fashion businesses to start using more technology so they can become “on-demand” manufacturers. It is so expensive to keep inventory, and now we see what a liability massive inventory can become when something goes wrong. The only way to stay agile is to minimise inventory and use technology to pivot wherever market need goes.
AR: Apparel manufacturers are geared up to manufacture masks and body coverall along with other PPEs such as face shield etc. to combat the shortage of required PPE. Tukatech is providing technical support to them not just in the USA but also across the globe. What is that? How is your technology helping them produce PPE?
Ram: Apparel manufacturers are shifting their business models from fashion to personal protective equipment. Much of what they are producing is for civilian use to keep FDA approved N95 masks available for doctors and nurses. Although we work with many companies who were already doing this, most fashion firms are not prepared and need help on many fronts. Most of our team members are highly skilled, and collectively, we decided to create a technical group who could design by making patterns, check fit in TUKA3D, grade them, make efficient markers and distribute packages for masks, hospital gowns, shoe covers and other medical or PPE products to these companies.
Over 350 companies around the world are taking advantage of these services. At last check, they are making over 10 million products per week and ramping up. It is motivating for our team members to get Thanks You notes on personal levels. We are not asking for any money yet my guys are working harder than ever. It is not me who is pushing them, it is the following mail that keeps them going: “I really wanted to highlight this to you, that your team here has been super helpful in working on patterns/markers/grading during this time of lockdown, as we are trying to work on the PPE suits for the present situation. The 1st request I made was on last Sunday & I had patterns, with markers in 2 hours. The next request I shared with a video of a product & a basic spec sheet , again work done in less than 2 hours. It is in these difficult times & situations, how we handle relationships and services that define us. For me, from day one what has always stood out with Tukatech, is the flexibility and the service levels and I believe in the end that’s all that matters. Thank you so much for instilling this attitude in your team”, Randeep Arora, President Supply Chain- Fab India
AR: How has Tuaktech been able to help PPE manufacturers? Are you modifying your equipment/software to get desired results in PPE manufacturing?
Ram: These patterns can be cut and sewn as is or used as a starting point. We do not guarantee that these patterns meet regulations for medical use, but manufacturers can easily customise these patterns for any use case. I want to mention here that Relief@tukatech.com was set up to help anyone who needed help, it is not limited to just Tuka customers. We have had requests from so many companies who desperately needed help. We are advising them on many other technical aspects, even making markers when they send us the width and type of fabric being used.
AR: What are US Government’s measures to help safeguard the sewing technology industry?
Ram: I think the US government will have a big interest in maintaining a strong sewn-goods manufacturing industry within its borders. What this pandemic has shown is the United States relies heavily on imports for commercial goods as well as medical and emergency supplies. It is unwise to rely on foreign sources for these items because when the supply chains are disrupted by a global crisis, the problem becomes a lot more complicated. Sadly, the demand is greater and the supply is very limited. Los Angeles being a manufacturing hub, the Mayor appointed a committee, gathered many big companies and we are now in motion making millions of products per week. This demand is not going away as this will become a new normal.
Many businesses will continue to make these products even after the lockdowns are lifted. We are blessed to have many interesting fabric mills in California. Some of them cater to very big guys like Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, New Balance, Asics and others with technical fabrics. While the demand for these may dwindle for intended use, they are working very hard to switch and prepare for products needed in medical use. Although we all hear that help is coming soon, for many soon is not soon enough. Let’s all see as individuals how we can help just one more person, company, business, cause, and soon we will have a better place to share with new friends.