From its humble beginnings in a rented premises to its custom-built 90,000 sq foot premises today, we chat to Inter Mode International to find out more about the company, and its services
Tell us about your business, how long has it been running and what’s the story behind it?
Inter Mode International was founded by Umed Singh Bokaria, (who is still involved on a daily basis and the father of the three other directors), along with his brother Ranjit Singh Bokaria, in October 1989. It was a humble start, in rented premises with about 60 machines and 100 staff, spread over approximately 5,000 square feet. For a man who had lived in rural India and traded in jute and food grains for most of his life, it was a very bold decision.
The early days were full of struggle, trying to find a foothold in a global business, without any overseas representation. The company made whatever came its way, by way of contract work, as direct orders were scarce. They worked with Japanese brands, American brands, and then European brands, all on a sub-contract basis, executing orders procured by other exporters.
The company benefited from these struggles though, and learned the skills necessary to produce a diverse range of products, across a variety of fabrics, in a range of dye and wash finishes. In the mid 1990’s, the company attended its first overseas trade show in London, finally giving them the opportunity to directly meet with brands and wholesalers and develop its own relationships. Inter Mode now produces shirts, pants/shorts and light jackets with around a 65% men’s and 35% women’s product mix.
In October 2000, Inter Mode acquired its first owned building in the Chennai suburb of Ambathur, a unit that they still operate from. Its biggest unit is located in the duty free SEZ area of Mahindra World City, around 55kms south of Chennai, operating under the company name Tuk Tuk Exports. This 90,000 square foot WRAP Gold unit was built to the company’s specific requirements and became operational in 2008.
Do you have your own design department, if so, where do you get the inspiration for your designs from?
No, we do not have a fully-fledged internal design department at present, but this is something that we are looking to develop. We obviously try and keep on top of trends and influence from within the market and develop in-house sampling on a continuous basis, plus of course we work with our clients to achieve their requirements on a rolling basis.
Do you find that brands and retailers are increasingly looking for design input from their manufacturing partners?
Yes, as mentioned previously this is an increasing request, but we find that this can very much vary from client to client, and even within a client’s own departments. Some clients are very protective of their brand and design input as they have worked hard to develop a style and image of their own whilst other clients value input on different levels. Certainly, we are always challenged to and want to provide input and we try to utilise our strength in fabric development as a major part of this, developing new qualities and suggestions to offer our clients, and of course with our longer-term clients we have a strong understanding of what is right for them.
What design trends have you seen coming over the past two or three seasons, and what trends do you expect to see over the coming seasons?
There has been a drive towards fabric interest in construction, hand-feel and wash and dye techniques – all of which are very much within our strengths – and latterly a drive towards setting the future in organic and ethical raw material and fabric sourcing
Are there any core staples that you are always asked for, irrespective of seasonal trend changes?
We run some excellent fabric qualities across varying constructions and weights of yarn-dyed, twill, poplin and structured cloths that are cross-season and cross-garment compatible, and importantly work in washed and unwashed finishes, so they are great for staple garments that sell irrespective of trend.
Do you have a particular manufacturing niche which sets you apart? How do you set yourselves apart from other manufacturers?
As already mentioned Inter Mode has a long-established expertise in fabric development dye and wash finishing to garments that all of our clients appreciate, but hopefully it’s our attention to the whole process of working with a client that is our ultimate selling point, trying to ensure that we have a seamless and trouble free relationship through development to shipping production. As a couple of examples, thanks to our consistent quality and understanding of the client’s requirement a global brand that we have worked with for 10 years has recently awarded its first ever self-approval certificate to our Tuk Tuk Exports factory, allowing us to inspect and ship garments straight off of production to its warehouses in the UK, USA, EU and China without the need for the client’s own QC to sign-off. In another example, our KPI scores with another global client operating in the EMEA area consistently appear at the top of their scores for on time in full shipping.
Have there been any new technological developments that you have introduced into your manufacturing processes? Do you think there will ever come a time where manufacturing is fully automated or it is the human input that makes the quality differences?
We have to date received minimal request for welded or seamless construction on garments – although we have sampled welded pockets onto some shirts and pants. In general whilst we automate as much as is possible for consistency and quality it is our understanding of how a garment needs to be sewn to achieve a certain finished look that drives our need for human input in order to achieve this.
Are you seeing any trends or changes in the way production is moving? For example, are you being asked more about ethical practices or are you turning to data driven production?
Yes, ethical practice is certainly a growing requirement and has been at the heart of our business practices. Other trends include a move to smaller more consistent and continuous orders rather than bulk seasonal order placement as was the tradition only a fewer years ago.
How do you adapt to the changes in the marketplace, how do you stay ahead of the curve?
In some areas it is easier to stay ahead of the curve. For example thinking of how your staff are treated, what can we do about sustainability or reducing our carbon footprint – areas like this are independent of trend and need to come from a personal desire rather than being imposed; at our Tuk Tuk Exports factory we have installed 885 m2 of solar panels (http://www.intermode.in/blog/green-future.html) and at our recently completed new head office in Chennai we have made the same commitment (http://www.intermode.in/blog/improving-and-sustaining-environments.html). Investments and initiatives like this are very much part off what we see necessary to be responsible in an industry that is amongst the most polluting on the planet.
Have customers become more demanding of suppliers? What have the core changes been in this relationship?
There is no doubt that the pressure on suppliers has increased since the financial crash of a decade ago. Retail prices in many markets have remained almost static whilst costs in developing markets have risen consistently, so we have the stark contrast of demands in both markets needing to be met at the supply end of the chain. It’s an ongoing overall market challenge, and one we need to continue to challenge ourselves over.
What advice would you give sourcing professionals looking for a manufacturer? What should they look for, and what questions should they be asking?
I think it would be to look below the surface of the offer – what is the quality and consistency of the service I am getting and what is the value of that quality and consistency (the overall package) to my business?
There are a couple of John Ruskin quote from the 1800’s that we often discuss as still being relevant today.
The first – ‘Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort’ – has become our internal benchmark to try and always do things right first time; of course we fail regularly because we are only human, but if we learn from our errors then we know we’ll get it right in the future and our experience and service improves. A potential customer can be assured we are always working on internal improvement in order to improve our customer service.
The second reflects the sourcing dilemma – ‘It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better’. We think this quite nicely summarises the squeeze in the market – the client wants the most by way of price and service and we have the challenge of providing this at a fair cost, so to our mind the cost of a garment alone should not influence a decision, rather it should be the cost of a service. An efficient quality driven service should be more cost-effective than an inefficient price driven service; and that’s true for our end of the equation too.
How can manufacturers and sourcing professionals improve their relationships?
A closer understanding of the mutual pressures that influence their respective businesses
Are ethical and sustainable credentials more important today? Is this something where buyers are becoming more demanding on these issues?
Crucial, and increasingly more so. Recently Jeff Bezos of Amazon was quoted as saying ‘There are companies that work hard to charge you more, and there are companies that work hard to charge to less’.
Our challenge is to try and charge the least amount possible for the most amount of service whilst returning the necessary income to allow us to continue to invest in ethical and sustainable practices. Without margin at both ends of the transaction there is nothing ethical or sustainable in the transaction.