Joining a promising technology company back in 2003 as an Installation Engineer and then moving up through the ranks to oversee operations in Asia and Europe of the same company that has now become one of the leading fashion technology companies of today’s time is no ordinary feat to achieve. Being extraordinary in his approach to execute an ambitious growth plan across the world in an ever-evolving fashion value chain environment is something that has helped Umesh Gaur – the new Managing Director (International) of Tukatech – to a level where he has reached today. The first major promotion that came in Umesh’s career was in 2010 when he was promoted to the post of Director in the Asia operations of Tukatech. He never looked back since then and became President (Asia) of the company and now, in 2022, he has been given the responsibility to handle Tukatech’s business operations in overseas markets too.
Since Umesh belongs to a technical background, he was well-suited to sit with Team Apparel Resources for a freewheeling discussion recently that unfolded a plethora of topics right from his personal achievements to Tukatech’s technology’s business model and how is he gearing up to boost his efforts to promote digitalisation through the company’s cutting-edge solutions in the global market. Here are the excerpts…
AR: First of all, congratulations on being promoted as MD (International)…What does this recognition mean to you? Can you please share with us your new responsibilities?
Umesh: It truly is a big challenge and I am prepared. I have been working for Tukatech for over 19 years now. I started as an installation engineer,learnt a lot as time moved on, and always tried to give 100 per cent efforts which have always been recognised by the top management team that’s based out of USA. Being Managing Director of the International market is a big challenge as well as an opportunity for me. I was responsible for the Asian market till now, but it has at present expanded global. I am fortunate to have support from other territories along with impeccable reputation of our company established over 27 years.
AR: Tukatech is rapidly expanding its footprints in the apparel industry across the globe. Amidst this growth, how do you place your efforts to support the vision of Tukatech?
Umesh: Tukatech’s vision has always been focused towards providing technical solutions with measurable results at one pre-determined cost. Of course there are many software companies in the fashion market, selling their technologies and many are doing wellbutTukatech has always believed in working as experts in our domain as we define complete process flow for our clients to help them see optimisation in their processes. We take entire project as consultants or if I may say as RESULTANTS and this comes with technology implementation. I feel the customer is looking for our expertise to help them engineer their entire process and that is how we feel we must continue. In most cases, the advice and solutions may require us to focus on Pre-process and Post-process engineering to produce seamless results.
AR: You will now be taking care of the markets like Asia, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, Africa and others. Supply chain environment has been challenging these days. What will be your strategies to address these challenges (through technology)?
Umesh: This was predicted long back by Tukatech that quantities will be reduced and the industry has to deliver faster to stay competitive. To cater to smaller quantities, more styles,the factories need to work SMART rather than hard on their product development process. The factories just can’t keep producing physical garment samples like they used to make before COVID-19 hit the world. If they don’t go for technology, their cost of product development will increase and speed to market will reduce drastically, that collectively impacts and hampers profitability. Previously, only product development process used to take around 40-60 days and factories used to get only 15 days for production. This is not viable anymore, given the fact that fashion supply chain is evolving at a rapid pace. Still if factories are doing 4 to 5 iterations for the same sample and this process is on repeat mode – something is hugely wrong! Tukatech is determined to address this issue so as to bring this product development time down to just maximum of few days using our technical expertise and solutions. Not just product development cost, even the production time can be reduced with sewing floor automation systems such as hanger systems for material handling.
What Tukatech is focusing on is – 1) Speed and 2) Real time data. Good Data provides help for good decisions.We believe in setting up operations by de-skilling the jobs and providing information to help management plan better.
AR: You do have strong teams in India and other neighbouring countries that are taking care of your Asian market. However, with bigger market comes greater responsibility and it also demands addition in the existing team. Will you be managing whole different team for the markets other than Asia?
Umesh: We have huge demand for CAD systems from different markets, especially since the time when we moved to cloud. We are offering all software through TUKA web where our users can pay on monthly basis and use our services as well. All this is being managed by our highly qualified people all over the world. In Europe, where I am going to increase our efforts now, we have hundreds of customers. We now have three European offices and our teams are helping design and fashion companies get digital. It is so surprising to see how many European companies still make paper patterns. With demand manufacturing and micro-factories picking up steam in most of the European countries, we believe we have the affordable and easy to learn systems that is helping so many small and big companies.
However, we realise that we still have to increase our efforts in some progressive apparel manufacturing destinations markets such as Egypt, African countries, and Vietnam. We are now adding a lot more technical people in all growing apparel destinations in the world.
AR: In Europe and USA, a lot of factories are bringing production back home and, for that, they are partnering with brands and tech players to setup in-house micro-factories. Will this be a focus area for you since Tukatech is a well-known name when it comes to setting up micro-factories?
Umesh: I want to make it very clear here that micro-factory is not a replacement of an actual factory or a factory that’s already running. It’s not an alternate to a mass production factory either. Micro-factory concept caters to smaller runs and faster runs both. It can cater to any sort of garments – knits, woven, denim, and high-fashion, and can produce as minimum as 1 garment to around 1,000 garments. With micro-factory, both the concepts – ‘design, develop, sell, and make’ and‘design, develop, make, sell’ – can be worked on effectively. This is a proven concept to cater to designs that are in trend in today’s time. We are the pioneers of DEMAND MANUFACTURING concept and have already built a lot of micro-factories in North America, Asia and in Europe.Our efforts towards establishing more micro-factories will continue to support small and mid-level factory owners as well as the start-ups.
AR: Tukatech recently came up with ‘Communal Factory’ concept. Please let us know about this concept. Is there any difference between Communal Factory and Micro-Factory?
Umesh: This surely is an interesting name. The concept is to have the office, desk, showroom and conference rooms for rent for anyone who has NOTHING. The facilities are in the same building where the micro-factory is. Any designer, start-up or a small company can share the room facilities, get services like getting a pattern made, sample or costing or printing or cutting and sewing, even shipping done by same provider.
It is the NEW TUKA CENTERS that provide full services. You come with your ideas and a credit card, and you are in business.
If you can’t afford setting up a micro-factory, but you want to develop, produce a few numbers of SKUs for your business, this ‘Communal Factory’ works for you. Communal Factory is one common place of factory that gives services to several buyers, brands and producers. You bring fabric, create your garments, cut, sew, dispatch and pay for the service. This is one factory and multiple people can use it by paying services charges. In USA, a lot of people are using our communal factories established by us.
AR: 3D simulation module got extra boost during COVID-19 as companies were forced to work digitally. What is the percentage growth of this module over last two years? 3D simulation module constitutes how much percentage of your total revenue?
Umesh: Before pandemic, the industry itself wasn’t upfront to go for 3D solutions. When buyers forced them, then only they invested in such solutions. However, pandemic has made them understood that 3D was always a dire need for the fashion industry even in pre-pandemic time and, by not going for it then, they lost significant amount of profitability. The role of technology provider should have been clearly visible even before COVID-19 wreaked havoc. Instead of charging customers on annual basis, they could have charged them on monthly basis and help them at least take a step forward to become digital-ready in the sampling process. That’s what Tukatech has already been doing to help the industry become more tech-friendly. Our main business revenues are from CAD technology and 3D constitutes around 18 per cent of our revenues.
AR: Tukatech also has hardware solutions (spreader + cutter) to offer. But during recent past, there has been low traction of hardware and it seems you are focusing/emphasising more on the software solutions (in Asia at least). Do you agree on these points? With new geographical regions added to your portfolio, do you feel there will be different focus/strategy for different regions? Please elaborate on this…
Umesh: We are focused on solutions not on just hardware or software. If you talk about cutting machines/spreaders, we have a customer in Sri Lanka. They were facing issues in spreading light weight fabric some years ago as they were not able to spread fabric without relaxation. They ran a pilot with Tukatech, tested our solution and decided to stay with us for a long-run. They now have around 40 spreaders from Tukatech. In USA, we have sold nearly 30 cutters in last couple of years alone. One cutter and one spreader has arrived in Ahmedabad recently and one cutter and two spreaders are on the way to Delhi. We do suggest that ‘solution’ is required; rather than focusing to sell more and more technology to anyone – that’s our business model.
When Tukatech was formed in 1995, we collaborated with an Italian cutting technology provider. Mr. Sareen was an expert in cutting systems and by partnering with a factory, we were able to develop cutters with our specifications, our software that performed better than the machines made by same company. We should know where our expertise is and accordingly find right partners for tech collaboration.
Another hardware machine is our spreader system. We revolutionised the traditional spreading machines when we equipped our spreaders with a projection system, on board computers for IOT-Industry 4.0. Most of cutting technology providers have also come up with upper projection system but many of them faced setback due to wrong angle of their projectors. We came with a projection system that is mounted on top of spreader system and it projects only about 1-2 metres at a time. So, what is the advantage of that? It HELPS the operator make the correct decision and the on board computer with marker data allows Spreader to make the correct decision.
As far as our strategy for hardware business is concerned, let me tell you that, unlike other technology providers, we aren’t charging for Annual Maintenance Contract (AMC) from the customers. What we do is,we train the technicians in factories so that they are able to maintain their own systems and have the maximum UP TIME. However, as a service provider, we are always ready to help our clients whenever they need us. This is something we follow in all our markets. We rather “teach you to catch your own Fish when you are hungry rather than wait for us to provide”.
AR: Despite efforts, why are factories failing in fabric optimisation? How can Tukatech change this scenario?
Umesh: Some factories go for cheap solutions without thinking that it may fail miserably. In India, garment factories show reluctance mainly because they have seen failures of many other garment factories that don’t buy right technology and, moreover, don’t focus on right implementation, and hence refrained themselves to invest in tech solutions out of fear.
Let me share my experience how factories are failing in cutting room. Talk about a spreading system that spreads 15 metres of fabrics per minute (for example), if it runs at optimum level. In an hour, it spreads 900 metre fabrics. Then comes the roll changing time which should take a couple of minutes but in many cases it is as high as 30 minutes! That’s ridiculous. The productivity of spreading system reduces drastically here. Ironically, only a few of factories are paying attention to this issue. One has to utilise every minute in the cutting room. I am not saying that factories should buy our technology, I am just suggesting the industry should ‘buy the right technology’.
AR: How can factories decide if a technology they are planning to invest in, or have invested in, is a ‘right technology’ or not?
Umesh: Every factory at regular frequency should check whether they are utilising the fabric at optimum level or not. Because they invest a couple of thousand dollars to purchase technology but, to purchase fabrics, they are spending a lot more amount on a regular basis. So, saving even 1 per cent of that can pay off the cost of all cutting room technology. My suggestion to factories is – go to different vendors (tech companies) and ask them to test how much fabric these vendors can save for them.
We did similar exercise with Brandix. That time they weren’t using Tukatech. They called different vendors including us in their plant and asked them to make markers to check who is helping Brandix save the most fabric! And, Tukatech was ahead of other vendors with around 1.08 per cent more fabric savings than others. That was the time when Brandix replaced all their existing systems with Tukatech. Now Brandix has around 280 Tukatech systems.We keep stressing on this – “Do not throw fabric on floor, utilise it to the fullest”, which is our to-go mantra. Technology should help factories utilise fabric to the optimum level. If a technology is allowing buffer, then it’s of no use and it is sheer waste of fabric cost, power consumption, other consumable parts and manpower.
AR: Digitalisation is undoubtedly the way forward for the companies in post-pandemic world. But the speed at which factories are going digital is yet to see maturity. What will be your efforts to ramp up tech-adoption, especially in product development in factories of all sizes?
Umesh: That’s a good question. I want to add here that even the Western World like USA and many countries in Europe are very behind in use of technology as compared to many of our customers in Asia and Central America. Can you believe it that there are more paper pattern makers in New York City, in London, in Milan, in Spain than many Asian countries?
California, the home of TUKATECH, has been an example for many brands and retailers who now have Design labs, or Innovation centers and it puzzles them to see almost ALL companies in California use technology for fashion and most are using TUKA systems, even 19 universities and few high schools teach with TUKAcad and TUKA3D systems.
As far as our efforts are concerned, I give you one example. Although we brought Digital Pattern Making and 3D use in Pakistan in 2005 but we never worked in that country till about 6 years ago. Our first customer, Matrix Sourcing decided to launch a domestic brand but ON DEMAND manufacturing.
LULUSAR became the first brand in Pakistan where it was 100 per cent technology and ZERO INVENTORY. They launched their own local brand for their home base in Pakistan. As a long time user of Tukatech solutions for pattern making, grading and virtual sample making, the fashion company looked to advanced virtual design and fit technologies to offer a vast product line quickly and they did that effectively. Now the industry is accepting the fact that tech-driven approach to apparel product development phase is the best way out.
Today almost all Denim and Knit companies, domestic brands in Pakistan use TUKA systems. The NEW place to go and see how factories CAN RUN is Pakistan, even Sri Lankans now go to see how factories, cutting and sewing rooms can be engineered.
Our ‘unlimited training and support’ mantra and free consulting, engineering and implementation has proven to be the best choice for our users where they just sit, relax and watch the MEASURABLE RESULTS. This approach of ours has built trust in our clients for us and has strengthened our relationship even better!