Let’s continue the new series to have a chat with remarkable people in our industry. We are trying to spot patterns of excellence. Join today to discover a bit about their personal story, of the ways they think, their mindset, their routines, that you can test and apply in your own life.
In our last conversation with Dr Hung he hinted on Phong Phu's Innovation Center... I’ve been dying to get them on the show again.
That sounded incredibly innovative and I wanted to dive deeper into this topic.
So, I requested: "Please tell the Smart Garment Exporter Community MORE about it..."
Here we go, the Sultans of Blue with a deep dive into their amazing Innovation Center...
- Why some passionate manufacturers spent as much as $9 million of their hard-earned cash into a game-changing green building. (Without a clear line between investment and ROI)
- Phong Phu’s “Magic Tip” for high customer retention, a massive culture injection, and enough fashion ideas to sustain brands and retailer for the next season to come.
- Biggest tech trends defining the future of garment manufacturing. (This is a MUST-KNOW for any exporter who still wants to be in business 6 months from now)
- Dazzling insights into a sample-developing process with 3D support. (Plus, product development from start to finish in 7 days)
- The "inner game ingredient” that makes your solution the clear winner in your customers' eyes (and it has nothing to do with why yours is “better, cheaper or faster”)
The Innovation Center Strategy with Thiru and Nikhil
Phong Phu has been in the Inspiration Maker Series before, but today the directors of R&D Nikhil and Thiru, are sharing behind the scenes of their Innovation Center in Vietnam.
I'm curious, what exactly is the thing you call your Innovation Center - what exactly is it?
Thiru: Imagine you want to buy a high-end car.
And you are not sure what to buy.
But there is a tailored showroom where all the high-end cars are displayed with the test drive, payment option, and a salesperson who walks through this to give you the right advice on what car, what budget, what payment terms, what service is offered?
That is an innovation center, it’s a place where you have all designs to actual requirements of a Denim in one place.
- Fit /Pattern software and technicians
- Fabric Engineers
- Mini production lines
- Latest wash equipment
In short, a place where inspiration to actual is achieved in a weeks’ time.
The Innovation Center is a mini end to end set up under one roof that not only provides designers and product manager the latest samples, fittings, washing tailor-made, but also develop exactly what they have in their creative mind to actual in a weeks' time.
The fashion industry has changed leaps and bounds and today’s customer wants newness.
This is the single most important aspect of retail. In the past, you had projections a year in advance and now it's 3 months in advance.
The only reason this shift has happened is that customers need something new, something innovative and unique and that’s where we come into the picture.
Anticipating the changes in the retail scenario, PPJ created an innovation center where a think tank of persons is developing fabrics, washes, trims, fits to offer newness to the brands.
Tell me about the defining moment where you decided to bring your Innovation Center to life... Any specific moment you realized that this would be a need…?
Nikhil (smiling): "Necessity is the mother of all inventions. “
PPJ company started with a single unit and today we have 17 factories. As we expanded, we realized that the business was getting tougher and traditional brands were shrinking.
The only way to keep up was to add value. Our CEO has said numerous times that we are in a customer-centric business only if the customer does well, then we will do well.
In order to grow, we need to create, innovate. The one defining moment is when Mr. Hung realized that PPJ was growing faster than the existing brands and we needed to add more brands to our portfolio.
Retail is like a restaurant business... the menu needs to change every 2 months only then will the customer frequent.
What was your working process like before the Innovation Center was established? And how does the working process look today?
Nikhil: It’s a paradigm shift.
Before we blindly followed what was given by the brands and retailers and had no clue on the sales or front end.
Now we are in the driving seat and constantly follow the trends in all aspects and know how the market is evolving.
To put it simply we changed from a goalie to a striker.
I never heard you say that before, can you explain that to me very practical. Ok, let's imagine I'm a designer of a brand in Germany. How would you guide me to start the next season with PPJ? Can you please walk me through it?
Nikhil: Sure, we normally start with the following:
Have a candid talk with the brand, understand the customer base, look at its aspirational reach and make a study of existing products in terms of fabric, trims, wash, and price points.
Then the team starts to roll with a close-knit group of Design analysts, stylists, fit technicians, fabric and wash we create a trend board with a 3D sampling module.
Which will enable the designer to view an actual product on a mannequin without making one.
With this, she/he will have a complete visualization of how a product looks and once there is a synchronization it's cut, made, and washed ready in a weeks’ time.
The module is like a tailored product where we act as a support system to tell the brand what would be best for it.
And the tailor makes a range to fit in the price points.
Having our own Denim-, Woven-, and Knit mill is a big plus point.
Did I understand that correctly - you can make a new development sample in a weeks’ time? How can you manage that?
Thiru: Yes, 3D sampling is a process where you visualize a sample in a 3D format in a mannequin.
It’s like a virtual person wearing an actual jeans in terms of fit/wash this eliminates all the actual work you need to do on a physical sample.
Simply by viewing the 3D you can make corrections on fit/wash and visualize a final product.
Then it’s putting the final visualization to work in 7 days.
You have 3 showrooms. Why 3?
Thiru: Dr. Hung has nicknamed the rooms as:
Einstein: Room where you think, come with ideas, innovations... this is a room where the IDEA is created.
Tesla: Product engineering room. Here the idea is put into a feasible CONCEPT.
Bang and Olufsen: Final product display.
PPJ's philosophy is that work must be fun.
And only when the work environment is fun & inspiring then you tend to be more innovative.
Different rooms are also used by designers when they come its created in such a way with complete product display so that we bounce back ideas.
What is one thing that your innovation Center did that you didn’t expect?
Thiru: Every industry or factory has a maintenance department. Whose primary job is to ensure on machine working condition and repairs when needed.
Our department turned from maintenance to R&D engineers and created a spray machine which we use for spraying colors on Jeans which was faster, better, and more robust.
This was least expected and caught us by surprise.
What is the best compliment you have ever received from one of your customers?
Nikhil: Unfortunately, we cannot take names. We had a design team that hopped around the world for samples and worked in a traditional way of sending samples - getting samples back. And it was time-consuming and tiring for them.
After the innovation center was established she sent a postcard from Milan which read:
“Thanks to u guys I have a stress-free vacation after a long time! As earlier I could not relax due to constant back and forth - now my samples are bang on!“
What is your monthly capacity in the Innovation Center?
Thiru: Developments – 6.000 samples per month.
Test order – (Mini Bulk Order) – 20.000 samples per month.
Total around 26.000 pcs a month.
How would your own staff describe the Innovation Center?
Nikhil: For the team it's home away from home... we have a diverse mix of Indians, Filipinos, Italians, Vietnamese this is our second home - the bonding is very strong.
They feel a sense of pride in their work.
Who do you think of when you hear the word successful?
Thiru: The day we think we are successful is the day innovation stops.
We are evolving, changing, adapting. Innovation ends when you take a back seat.
We feel a sense of pride when designers work with us, create products, this product is adopted, and we hear about good sales.
That feeling is of being successful.
You have a green building. What does “green” really mean?
Nikhil: The concept to build green was to set an example of sustainability.
Natural sunlight and solar lamps in the entire building. 90% water recycling, every piece of furniture is made from recycled trash. Doors are from discarded containers, tables, and chairs from discarded wood.
State-of-the-art machines which reduce water and electric consumption to a minimum.
We avoid total usage of plastic.
Being environmentally friendly is a mindset. We want to show how this can be practically applied in the industry.
This center is an example of what future manufacturing must look like.
Regarding your video: It looks amazing! I'm thrilled - all these robots... Where are they from and what do they do?
Nikhil: We have the best of Tonello, Tolkar, Jeanologia, Yilmak machines from Laser, Washing, E flow coupled with 3D Optitex, Browse wear.
The idea is to have more atomization as well as less error for Denim processing.
Atomization helps in faster and error-free processing.
We are constantly embracing new technology, that is the future.
When innovative samples are made, we require precision in process, less error and this is possible only by automation.
I can imagine setting up a green building like this is very costly... Is it a big difference to build a regular building or the green building? How do you get back the return on your investment?
Thiru: The whole setup is a $9 million investment.
And when we talk about this to people in the garment circle the remark is: "What is wrong with PPJ? You can build two factories with this money."
There is no straight line between investment and return for an innovation center.
Mathematically our strike rate is at 64% which means that we have a great adoption rate. This translates to orders across our 17 facilities, we manufacture 25 million jeans a year.
The intangible befits are the value addition, the easy button which is hard to replace.
What does an ideal day look like for you?
Thiru: An ideal day starts with an Espresso and ends with a beer ?.
The entire atmosphere is one of camaraderie, the team enjoys the work.
We do have intense moments when an idea to executions gets stuck but end of the day the final product brings the smile in the team.
What are the biggest tech trends that you see defining the future of garment manufacturing?
Thiru: We foresee the following:
Sustainability will be mandatory
Fittings will be virtual
Laser will replace traditional hand sand
Eco friendly chemicals and dyes will be mandatory
The youth today is more conscious of the environment and believes in a cause. This is a good sign for sustainability.
The garment industry would be a precision industry, automation would rule.
What is the one top machine in your production arsenal you’re most proud of and why?
Thiru: The E-flow machine, the concept is amazing!
Who would imagine that nanobubbles would be used to give dye, spray, acid wash effect on garments?
This is a very revolutionary concept - a game-changer.
How do you replicate samples to bulk?
Nikhil: A very good question... Nike says: "Just do it".
Our saying is: “Design –Document –Duplicate“.
Design is done in manner which is production feasible.
Document of process is done at every step.
Duplication is possible as every unit of PPJ has the same set of machines and skill set.
What are your most inspiring brands?
Thiru: As you start your career you are enamored by many top-end brands. But the real inspiration is what you see in non-traditional retail.
If you take a stroll in Vietnam flea market you find old vintage bomber jackets which are so creative, the same with small shops in LA, Japan where unknown brands have some kind of exclusivity these are true inspirations.
A pair of jean worn by a lumberjack and unwashed for months has an authentic storyline which is a great start for vintage adoption.
Inspirations are found in daily life.
Where can people find you? How can people get in touch with you?
Please get in touch with Mr Deepak: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks Thiru and Nikhil and team Phong Phu for sharing generously your insights.
I hope you enjoyed this chat as much as I did.
All my best
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