Weaving wonders in the textile industry
Samit Hassan, Director of Silver Line Group talks to Ice Business Times about his family company and shares his aspirations.
Please tell us about your company, how it started and how was the journey of Silver Line Group?
Silver Line Group started before I was born. I became the director of the company when I turned 18. We started our spinning in 2002. Our spinning was for knitting, but then in 2014, our plan was to do a composite, so we ended up doing a woven composite instead of a knitting composite. My dad Mr. MAH Salim found out that knitting was done by a lot of people in Bangladesh, but woven was done by only a few people. That’s when he thought instead of going into the path of knitting, let’s go for the woven path. Normally, in woven industries, the yarn dyeing, solid dyeing, weaving and finishing are all in different sectors because they involve different processes. When we decided to start our own textile factory, we brought separate components under the same compound. Our textile, garment, and spinning are under one boundary.
We bought this land a long time ago. Before deciding on a spinning factory, we went through a couple different ideas. My dad is not fond of changing business rapidly, he likes to see the market and the trend to see where it’s moving. And gradually with quality work, we became one of the most successful in this industry.
When I was a teen, I used to go to the factory with my brother, who used to visit the industry 6 days a week. It took us 2 years to build the factory, and started running it around 2014. When I used to go with my brother, my dad would urge me to accompany him. This was aimed at encouraging me to know what’s happening, so that I would appreciate the business. It’s a family business, so he always wanted his sons to be involved with it.
The recent trade war between the U.S. and China has been a boon for our garments industry. If China and USA settles everything between them, will this advantage go away for us?
If China and the U.S. settle everything, the advantage will be to us. In Bangladesh, when something hits, it becomes a trend and everyone goes after it. Like right now, woven is something, I can tell from the top of my head, there are thousands of factories that are coming to this field. The market is shifting. China is already coming into Bangladesh and trying to buy off factories, and also trying to capture the factories that are already there right now. It’s beneficial right now for Bangladesh, because we are moving to the next level, since there is a trade war going on between the U.S. and China. There will be no more people shifting to China because of the rate at which the technology is shifting. South Korea used to be a textile industry; they went from fabric and moved on. Then China captured the textile field, and is now shifting it to Bangladesh. Bangladesh has the opportunity to capture the market, but there are ups and down. China will come into Bangladesh but I’m not too keen on that, I’d prefer Bangladesh doing it.
In the RMG sector, our greatest strength has been low wages of workers. Do you think that this advantage is sustainable in the long run?
No, I can’t say it is, because our workers are getting skilled on the same level as workers in Vietnam, Laos, India and Ethiopia. Their skill is increasing, obviously they’ll want more. For example, for you and me, as every year goes by, I want an increment. I don’t want the same thing, I want more. Bengalis are hungry for more. The garments industry has to consider raising wages, because garment has more heads, more workers. The textile industry relies on automation; we have become more dependent on the results from machines. For example, in garments, per line would have 20 something machine, and there is a lot of people per line of production. For us, in textile we deal with and are dependent on machines. Human beings can make mistakes, but that’s highly unlikely with machines. You input the right specs, it’ll follow. It’s the same pattern over and over, with repetition. In garment sector, it’s all about sewing, thus human beings eventually get tired. So, sustainability of the wages, is beneficial for us, but it won’t last.
What should the stakeholders do to protect our position in the global market?
As I see, you want the person who’s working for you to be loyal. When you begin working for someone, they train you. If I start training my people and if I am able to earn their sympathy and loyalty, and inspire them to realize that they are not just working for me, but they also have a home here and are being taken care of – I think these things matter a lot for the success of the company. It’s not always about the big things, or about showing people what they want to see. It’s about actually going there, talking to them and understanding them. Talking helps, and even small talks with them, it makes them smile. I’ve seen it. It’s the relationship that you build between you and the workers that matters on the final product. When workers are treated well, they will try to give their best in performance. Treating employees right will make them stay with you. The rapport with employees will help you to produce best quality product which will help you to be confident and make your position in the global market strong.
Since the Rana Plaza tragedy, our RMG sector has come a long way with complying with international safety standards, where does Silver Line group stand when it comes to compliance?
Silver Line Group is 100% compliant. We have the certification to prove that. So, we are 100% complaint by the Accord and Alliance for our garments. After the Rana Plaza tragedy, there was a distinct shift in industry practices. When workers know that the factory is certified by Accord and Alliance, they feel a sense of security, because the compliances are met. If there was a fire or a drill, I would know how to get down, how to get out. Something good came out of the tragedy, but I am still sympathetic towards what happened. The tragedy forced our industries to take stock of glaring mistakes and work towards bettering the conditions. The drafting of Accord and Alliance also secured the reputation of our country.
How has local spinning mill contributed in the RMG sector in terms of supply chain and cost?
Spinning mill has contributed greatly to the reduction of cost and supply chain of the industry. However, people still import. India makes cheaper yarn, at times better quality, because they grow their own cotton. Also right now in the industry of spinning, the yarn’s prices aren’t going up, but cotton prices are going up. There are only a handful of people who manufacture cotton, they set the prices giving them the upper hand. In July-December period of the current fiscal year, export earnings from the readymade garment sector went up by 15.65% to US$17.08 billion, which was US$14.77 billion in the same period last year, according to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data released.
I’m increasing few thousand spindles; we’re getting in 70000’s in a couple of months. And then I’ll make sure that my entire spinning is supporting my textile. It will reduce the time and I can maintain the quality of the thread. Like right now, I’m importing from India and getting it from my own factory too. I’m taking some from the local as well, but in the local market the yarn price is more expensive than what we get from India. Buying yarn in the country has a huge advantage, because if the quality isn’t right I can send it back. Whereas when importing from India, even if the specs are incorrect, I don’t have the permission to send it back.
Silver Line works with some of the biggest clients in Bangladesh textile sector. Is it challenging to maintain such a demanding client base?
Silver Line Group is willing to take on the demand and challenges of our clients. Give us any type of yarn, if my machine can run it, I promise you I will run it. Even if it’s at the development stage, I will run it. I will not say no to my buyers if I know that I have the opportunity to do it. Bangladesh used to be that country for textile in woven sector. We were the ones who brought 100% viscose, 100% modal, Cotton spandex, 100% yarn dyed tensile, Silk, Hemp, Coolmax with cotton spandex and mixed it up. Some of our competitors are unhappy with us, because we are not opening buyers’ eyes, we are opening market opportunity for Bangladesh in these kinds of variety. So it’s not only about 100% cotton but also other activities that improve our services to customers. We are mixing it up and we like it. For example, if a buyer thinks Bangladesh is only 100% cotton, only certain people will come. Where’s the point in that? I am making different types of fabric too. But it’s hard to maintain, because maintaining the balance of each and every fabric is different. Bangladesh is used to 100% cotton which is why we decided to create textiles in an experimental basis and then go for the full production. There was this unique yarn that my CMO showed me, he developed it. For me, developing things like this is fun, I actually like it. It became a passion throughout the years.
Now that you guys are doing woven, is there other lines of textile you guys are bringing in right now?
No, actually woven right now, is pretty huge in Bangladesh. Because as you can see woven is shutting down in China and coming into Bangladesh. We already captured it in 2014. There are a lot more that were before us and they did a good job but they did not have the diversity that we have shown. When we came into the market, we showed them. With 4 different colors of yarn, and made it into 7 types of shades. We played around. I thank my team. I learned from them, they teach me, because I have 0 textile background. Even when I used to go to the factory, I didn’t have an office, and now when I’m 25, I still don’t have my own office in my factory. I sit in the weaving floor, with my R&D, planning, managers, I sit with them in the conference room and I can see what everyone is doing. At the back, I have the machines crackling, I can hear the sound of every machine, every stage that they go through, like every swab that’s coming out. Learning has no measures. We are learning all the time.
As part of the Silver Line Group’s CSR, you provide childcare and medicare, tell us a bit more about these initiatives?
Medicare, we have one in our garments unit and we have one in our textile unit. Spinning unit is in between both of them, so we give them Medicare from those two centers. The doctors stay on the premises, we have provided residence for them. We encourage workers to visit our doctors. In Bangladesh factories, there is a divide between workers and the head officials. We’re trying to mend the gap between factory workers and head office as a company. Whenever there’s a communication gap, there will be big problems. A lot of things could go wrong, production may not be finished on time, or things may get delayed, buyers might be complaining because head office team is not working with factory team. This is why we encourage our people to go to our factory. Take the time and go to the factory. We even sent some of our planning people from our factory to go see the buyers, explain why things are not coming on time, why they are having problems. We don’t separate factory and head office workers, everyone’s an employee and at the end of the day we have to work for the company. We have to work for the company, so that people can have their jobs. We have 6000 employees, overall; for my dad it’s a lot. Because he has to take care of 6000 people. So we have to ensure everything runs smoothly. We also have childcare. Garments people have children, so while they are working, they can’t take care of them, so we watch over the kids for them. The present export growth is better compared to the previous year. But there is more space to grow in terms of export earnings.
We also have learning centers as in training centers. We train them and based on their performance, they are employed. CSR for my dad extends beyond the company. We have universities and colleges in our hometown, and it’s free of cost by the company. It’s under my paternal grandparents’ names. It’s run by us and the government. We built it for the community.
You guys are pretty big on green technology? What sort of water conservation system does Silver Line have?
We do zero disperse, like ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant). 100% of our wastewater is treated through Biological Treatment Plant and recycled to reuse and cost minimization. This significantly contributes to our GREEN environment initiatives, waste control. A part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to protect the environment and society. We also have WTP (Water Treatment Plant) and CRP, caustic recovery plant. This is a step towards zero effluent discharge. Through this we get 90% recovery of caustic soda from weak lye, recovery of water from vapor condensate, reduction of TDS, COD of effluent and so on.
We also don’t have any black exhaust, no black air, so only white air, which is cleaner. We have recognition of ‘CONFIDENCE IN TEXTILES’ from Oeko-Tex-Standard 100 and GOTS. Silver Line also has OE 100 Standard certification. We have organic certification from Global Organic Textile Standard. And we are not doing any diesel generators, we are doing natural gas for zero black air. We have solar panel system in a few areas. Green is coming into play, we are doing sustainable yarns, which is reusable. Silk is also reusable. We also developed hemp, that’s 100% sustainable. We are the first ones to do it, nobody in Bangladesh has done it.
There’s a lot of automation in textile, and soon the garment industry will see rapid automation. It stands to be seen how the picture of the garment industry will be. Rapid automation may not be as promising, since it is a machine that follows specs. Think about bespoke designs which are handmade. When something is handmade, an extra level of care and effort goes into the making.
Do you have anything else say to the readers?
I want to say that I am glad to be a part of the Silver Line Group. It pushed me at the age of 18 to learn. Now I’m 25, and I think I’m pretty well experienced, but I am happy that my dad pushed through this route, to mix with people and to understand them, and how much they will respect us in return. I saw that and I like it.
I want to finish with my favorite quote. The quote states, “Nothing is going to work out unless you step up and make it happen.” – Aulic Ice. This is the quote that always motivates me to work hard like there is no tomorrow. This quote encourages my fellow youths to work hard to achieve their goals. There is nothing which comes in easily; one must work for it. If your wish is to make it in life before the age of thirty years, then you should start working now to make it come true. Hard work will always result in better outcomes. Just continue working to ensure you fulfill your dreams. Everything is possible.