Denim companies—from fabric manufacturers to garment exporters and accessory producers—had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic on two fronts. They had to look at the denim ecosystem and pre-empt how to fit into the new scheme of things once the virus had been eradicated, and—like all other businesses in the fashion industry—manage both ends of the value chain.
General Manager (R&D and Sustainability) at Karachi-based Rajby Textiles, Safdar Shah, outlines it in a way that would ring true for most companies: “Initially the pandemic hit everyone hard, including us. There was a complete shutdown in Pakistan, but once the lockdown was lifted, we had to amend all our working conditions with strict safety measures and following WHO guidelines at work. We were able to bounce back and got going with full capacity within three months. It was tough though because the office timings were reduced, alternate working days were implemented, workers were forced to get tested for COVID-19, etc. The buyer and supplier ends were managed using electronic media in the absence of physical shows/ meetings.”
At Rajby, the owners led from the front. “As this was global, small delays in both receiving raw materials and shipping goods were all properly communicated and duly accepted at both ends. The key to success was timely communications, transparency, and clarity in mutual understanding. The financial issues were tackled smartly by company’s directors who decided not to lay off any employee or make any salary cuts. The owners funded all the financial setbacks from their own pockets and this decision actually helped us as the employees really started to work with more dedication and were a big support in making the company running at full capacity once again.”
The setbacks were of a different kind in Italy, where the first wave was a catastrophe. Berto Industria Tessile, founded in 1887 in Bovolenta, a small town in the province of Padova, had its rich heritage and quality production to fall back on. Recalls Francesca Polato of the Italian giant’s marketing department: “Many customers came back looking for quality Italian denim fabrics and we were ready to supply them. In dealing with suppliers, the most complicated thing has been managing delivery times, which have lengthened considerably, besides the price increases. But our fabrics are still fabrics with an already high price since they are made in Italy.”