Raj Subramaniam is the Director of Operations at SILQ, Asia. Raj is based in Chennai, India, and has spent over 30 years in the sourcing and manufacturing sectors. He began as a factory-based apprentice quality checker and worked his way up to head the Indian operations for the French firm Norprotex.
Raj's role at SILQ builds on his experience. He covers a diverse range of product categories, including furniture, shoes, bags, and apparel for clients seeking to manufacture products in Asia. This encompasses sourcing the right product from the right factory at the right price. Raj's network refined over decades has helped SILQ scale and build credibility with manufacturers in sourcing hubs like India, China, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Global supply chains are often complex and opaque, with networking largely taking place offline through word of mouth and pre-existing relationships. Raj identifies locally-based subject matter experts in quality control and merchandising to monitor execution with manufacturing partners on the ground. SILQ enters a nascent area at an exciting time. The growth of e-commerce has incentivized the need for improved sourcing visibility. Maturing combinations of technologies (AI, ML, blockchain) provide pivot points at which companies' methods to address operational problems can change dramatically. Raj shares his perspectives on the sourcing landscape in India today.
How has the sourcing landscape in India evolved in the past couple of years?
India is a huge exporter of textiles and apparel. The sector employs 45 million people, and total apparel exports are expected to reach $22 billion for 2020-2021. Internationally, the Indian textile and apparel sectors are competitive in many aspects, including cost-effectiveness, range of raw material capability, the ability to pivot production quickly in response to sales trends, and a wide range of design options. There is an abundant, skilled workforce available at a lower cost compared to other countries. Despite the strong apparel manufacturing base in India, there are also disadvantages. India is a well-known player in the global market concerning brands with internationally recognized names.
What are the challenges and opportunities for emerging brands looking to source in India today?
The opportunities include the vast resources and specialized skills of Indian artisans in producing various textures and colors. The adaptability to produce small quantities is a huge advantage for brands looking to test products and react to sales trends. A predominant challenge prohibiting India's success is its isolation in the fragmented fashion ecosystem. Each stakeholder, including designers, exporters, textile players, retail chains, and the government, needs to work together.
What changes have you seen in India as sourcing activity has shifted out of the XUAR region within the past year?
I have worked on and heard of numerous new inquiries initiated from brands exploring the possibility of shifting production from China. They are seeking to diversify their operations following the coronavirus pandemic. I believe this will be a growth opportunity, and we will see a migratory expansion in the supply chain. However, the process is expected to be gradual. But the challenge of price constraints in comparison to China is still relevant, and the government has yet to announce new measures to woo firms planning to shift their production to India.
What are the key differences between manufacturing in India and China?
India definitely trumps China when it comes to the level of customer service that suppliers provide. The chances of finding a fluent english speaking counterpart on the factory’s part is higher in India than China. Given the relative lack of sophisticated tooling in the apparel space that enables efficient communication of design specs to factories, being able to communicate with factories who are receptive to a continuous feedback loop goes a long way.
Companies that produce majorly in China have had to invest in either hiring or relocating an expat to be that conduit when communicating with factories to ensure smooth product development and production.