Fabrics For The Future

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Mohammad Abdullah Zaber
Deputy Managing Director
Noman Group of Industries Limited

Mohammad Abdullah Zaber oversees the operations of Zaber & Zubair Fabrics, a sister concern of Noman Group. A graduate of AIUB, Zaber has incessantly worked towards the growth of the company. He is credited with streamlining business processes and formulating long-term strategic plans at Zaber & Zubair. His cost cutting and energy efficient measures have resulted in the group’s increased production volume and revenue.

Zaber & Zubair has won the national award for being the highest exporter for the 8th consecutive year. What is the significance of this achievement?
First of all, I would like to say that this is a fair judgment on a company which has been working tirelessly since its inception. We are thankful to the government. This is an achievement for all our employees as it would not have been possible without their hard work. This successive export success shows the sustainable performance practices we have implemented for so many years. We are a ‘for profit’ organization but we maintain our ethics. We never push our people beyond their working capacity, rather we focus on trying to increase their standard working habit through different capacity building programs.
This signifies a lot in terms of the clear vision and blueprint laid down by our honorable Chairman. Added to this was the hard work and dedication of our entire workforce which has helped steered Zaber & Zubair year after year to achieving all our targets. Needless to say, all these laurels give us more strength and empowerment to move further ahead with greater zeal in our quest to become one of the biggest textile groups in South Asia.

What do you attribute this success to?
First and foremost, Zaber & Zubair believes and invests in its human resources. As I mentioned previously, capacity building through our labor force is the key to our success. We care about our employees and if you live well, you work well. This is a simple motivational strategy we have followed for everyone. This creates a healthy team which can work well in all sectors of the company. The right people in the right areas of our business is the key for our growth. On top of this, we also update our machinery from time to time to evolve with the global trend. Innovation, creativity and the elevation of our product range with a greater emphasis on new product development, which is in line with seasonal market trends, have put our company in the club of the best of the woven fabric textile mills thereby creating a niche for ourselves on the international arena.

Enlighten us regarding the journey of Noman Group.
It is one of the oldest businesses in Bangladesh. The group was established 48 years ago in 1968 by my father and Chairman of the group, Nurul Islam. Nowadays, Zaber & Zubair is a globally renowned textile company and we reached this position through our hard work and perseverance. The group has 32 independent business entities, all of which are involved in the textile and apparel industry. This is also one of our key strengths. We have all kinds of manufacturing and supply chain systems, starting from the spinning to weaving to processing to the end product. Around 66,000 people are currently employed through our group. The Zaber & Zubair factory is one of the largest of its kind in South East Asia. We have buyers from all parts of the globe, this includes famous fashion and retail brands.

You are leading Zaber & Zubair, Noman Fashion, and Saad Saan Apparel; so you’re working in both the textile and RMG sectors. Can you tell us about the differences between the marketing approaches in the local and global textile and RMG sectors?
This is a vis-à-vis situation. One is for fabric production and another is for concentrating on the end product. Bangladesh is doing well on both sides. Once upon a time, this sector was an order-based business but the scenario has changed. Now you need to understand the market proposition from both the RMG and fabric sides. Nowadays, we are creating designs and innovate new products for European and American markets. Therefore, we must work for sustainable market strategies to meet our challenges, and opportunities. We focus our work in line with the needs of our buyers, sometimes trying to add greater value with this. This value adding is the creative marketing approach where we, Zaber & Zubair and Saad Saan Apparel, always work while staying aligned with what is demanded of us. Yes, of course, we are fighting the global competition from China, Pakistan, Turkey, India and other countries and I think, we are doing well.
The textile and RMG sector go hand in hand so the marketing strategies remain somewhat the same. Zaber & Zubair is now one of the largest vertically integrated groups, providing yarn to garment solutions under one roof. New product lines, timely deliveries and effective communication is what matters the most, to sustain and grow the ongoing business. Time and again it has been proven that in terms of labor effectiveness, no other country stands to counter Bangladesh. In spite of competition from countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India and Ethiopia, annual trends have shown that Bangladesh’s export volumes have been consistently growing, almost touching the $30 billion mark. We feel that with a focused approach on new product development, greater efficiencies levels and the utilization of our resources to fullest, we can further improve our standing on the global platform.

What are the main challenges that need to be overcome in the RMG sector?
We need to find new markets for sustainable future growth. Also, we need to be more innovative with our products. For this, I think, we should implement frequent in-depth market research, globally. That is the key to understanding, not only the market trend but more importantly, realizing the lifestyle of people around the world so we can cater to their needs. Yes, global brands still happily depend on our garments but the pricing has been deteriorating over the past few years. On the other hand, labor cost is increasing and energy supplies are diminishing. These are the areas that we should concentrate on in a united front. The government can play a vital role by ensuring a sufficient energy supply and by providing the necessary support to find and promote a new market for our RMG sector.

There is an abundance of labor available in our country but the lack of skilled labor is still an issue. What are your thoughts on this and what solutions do you propose?
Honestly, I do not completely agree with this sentiment. RMG is the only sector in this country where labor is being naturally skilled and creative. The people’s perception is that buyers are coming to our country due to the low labor costs. Yes, this is one face of the coin but you must also give recognition for the part of the labor force who are passionate about this kind of work. Some of these people are born cloth makers and stitchers. What we do is that we train them to use modern machinery and equipment’s, exposing them to corporate disciplines and moreover, helping them lead healthier lives.
However, in the textile field, yes, I would say we need more skilled labor. This is a specialized area which involves weaving, processing, spinning, printing, and washing. At Zaber & Zubair, we use routine training programs for our workers to always upgrade their understanding about the work we do. I think we can implement several training programs, nationwide, on a regular basis for the interested factory labors. Organizations like the BGMEA, BTMEA, and others alongside the government can take this initiative forward together.

How can Bangladesh go up the value chain in the apparel industry?
The value chain represents all the internal activities a firm engages in to produce goods and services. The value chain is formed of primary activities that add value to the final product directly and support activities that add value indirectly. Although primary activities add value directly to the production process, they are not necessarily more important than the support activities. Nowadays, competitive advantages are derived from technological improvements or innovations in business models or processes. Therefore, such support activities such as ‘information systems’, ‘R&D’ or ‘general management’ are usually the most important sources of differentiation or advantages. On the other hand, primary activities are usually the source of cost advantage, where costs can be easily identified for each activity and properly managed.
There are many advantages of the value chain, which all result in a company’s ability to understand and optimize the activities that lead to its competitive advantage and high-profit levels.
The five value chain activities are inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing and sales, and service. Therefore, Bangladesh’s apparel industry should put an emphasis on understanding value chain management to make the industry sustainable.

Noman Group is renowned for its various green initiatives. Can you please tell us about the various programs being implemented by your company to ensure environmental compliance?
From the beginning of Noman Group, our Chairman, Nurul Islam has prioritized labor health and for the environment safety. This has remained a part of the core values of our business. Therefore, we are happily implementing all environmental compliances marked by our clients. The general people of our country may not be aware of this, but we have one of the largest Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) setups in our factory in Asia. Our ETP is being used to freshen or recycle the water that is being used for the production process. All our factories have been equipped with solar panels and LED lights. Apart from that, we have been maintaining rainwater harvesting, steam recycling, motor inverters or VFD, EGBs (exhaust gas boilers) and CRPs (caustic recovery plants) for our environmental compliance initiative.

There are many universities now in Bangladesh where comprehensive textile education is given to the students. Do you have any suggestions for their curriculums?
I think the main positive here is that the younger generations are focusing their career paths towards the RMG and textile sectors. In most cases, students are aiming for the apparel merchandising but there is a wide range of professions that awaits them in these sectors. We need more dynamic and devoted professionals in the production fields and in the R&D sector. Teachers should inspire students to think more broadly regarding their choices instead of narrowing their own option down to just merchandising.

Would you please share with us your dream or future goal regarding the textile and apparel business future?
It is all about the better livelihood of the people. My father said that whatever the business you are into, at the end it has to be prosperous for human life. I always keep this as a motto in my mind. I want to see Zaber & Zubair leading the textile segment in the world market. We will have a different sub-brand, globally, and more people will involve themselves with this company and live a healthier life. Any designer or brand, across the world, when discussing Bangladesh should have Zaber & Zubair in their mind as one of the best innovative mills in terms, providing quality products with the best after sales services.

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