Rezaul Kabir, COO, Sailor, Epyllion Group has had quite an interesting career, starting out in the military and eventually changing tracks to join an RMG manufacturer. He quickly climbed the ranks and grew along with the company he worked for and today, he’s overseeing operations of one of Bangladesh’s notable fashion brands launched by Epyllion Group. His charismatic leadership has allowed him to command an empowered and motivated team who fear no obstacles in Sailor’s journey.
Bangladesh Brand Forum had the opportunity to talk to Rezaul Kabir regarding his personal journey, building fashion brands, and the importance of moving to a circular economy for the RMG industry.
ON HIS PERSONAL JOURNEY
BBF: You’ve had an interesting career path, starting out in the Bangladesh Army and making your way into the RMG industry. Can you tell us about your story so far?
After finishing college, I sailed towards the Bangladesh Army like many other young dreamers to join the life of “Left and Right”. The regimental life and my military career -albeit short-lived – armed me with true cardinal direction in my life. Learning seemingly trivial things, like polishing the boot to a mirror finish or debriefs after every single training activity, provided me with a lot of insight into mundane affairs and enriched my perspective of life as a whole. Without getting into the details, I would like to simply put forth that one of the oldest professions in the world cemented my resolve to march on no matter the obstacle.
Throughout my career, I banked on my perseverance and dedication to work. I joined Epyllion Group in 2006 as an executive. This company provided me with the ladder and taught me how to climb it. “A true soldier’s wound is never on his back,” so I kept looking forward, combatted the challenges, won, and kept marching – leaving behind my day-to-day failures, dissatisfaction, and so forth. In physical reality, we have only one option moving forward in time. Tomorrow you are a day older in your calendar, but one day, the calendar will cease for you. My RMG sector journey, especially with a giant like an Epyllion, has been challenging, but I believe I have delivered what the company expected from me – the dedication, development, and delivery.
What inspired you to join the RMG industry and what are some of the challenges you won over during that time?
Back when I joined and today, RMG was and is the most promising sector in Bangladesh where you can invest your energy, creativity, commitment, and more to reap a sizable success. The vastness of the sector and its escalating success inspired me to knit my dream in this sector.
There were many challenges along the way. You see, the RMG sector is like a living organism except for some basic attributes. As a living being, you are hardly aware of your heart functioning. You don’t count your breathing, nor your metabolism. But here in RMG, you oversee all aspects and tie the loose ends together. Failing to deliver on that responsibility will bring you ‘doom’.
Which three skills do you think were most instrumental in helping you achieve your goals?
Anyone can hold the magic words, but just like a skillful magician, you need skills to turn the stone into a flower. Three significant skills have blended with my mantra and philosophical understanding and they were instrumental in bringing me here.
Firstly, I’d mention the positive mindset of exploring each opportunity. Whenever there was a smell of opportunity or a peak of it in sight, I never left it unexplored. I wanted to be the man who grab it as “opportunities are never lost. The one you miss is the one the other person takes.”
Secondly, not taking failure negatively. Even when opportunities went south, I celebrated the failure, gathered myself, and ventured onto a new one with renewed enthusiasm. Unless you stumble, you will not learn to stand.
Finally, finding the right needle in the needle stack i.e., having an in-depth understanding and knowledge of your people’s capability is instrumental. Thus, choosing the “man behind the gun” to bring the desired result is almost second to none.
Of all these skills loved by the God, motivation tops all. The lack of motivation has driven us away from Eden. Motivation can play miracles. My worth and value can be directly proportional to my motivational level. A culture of motivation with different tools must be sowed, cultivated, and nurtured in every walk of life. Regardless of the profession, a motivated individual or team is the most significant output for the leadership.
Would you like to share some words of wisdom from your personal and career journey for the young professionals of the country?
Out of many, I’d like to impart a simplified “Leadership Model” that I practice, preach, and participate in. The model speaks of three basic leadership elements: the leader, the lead, and the communication. Be it a leader or lead, a simple, robust, invigorating communication can create a true bond, and the overall leadership emerges as a success. A simple communication can either flood your people’s brains with feel-good chemicals or with the stress-hormone.
A great deal of success will always hinge upon the way and the style you follow in your communication. Rewarding communication will keep the harvest, and rebuking communication will lower productivity. Communication is a two-way journey. And you must learn to be a Good Listener First!
ON BUILDING BANGLADESHI CLOTHING BRANDS
Can you tell us about Sailor’s journey so far; the challenges and the triumphs and important decisions that brought it to where it is today?
Sailor opened its doors to the public on 3rd April 2015, but its story goes further back. Epyllion Group, being involved in the RMG industry and working for the world’s top fashion brands, wanted to build a brand of its own that would grow as one of the best fashion brands this country has produced. To make this dream come true, Sailor was born in early 2013. Our team of experts spent countless days and nights observing and analyzing the target market’s requirements, trends of local fashion, seasonal variation in consumer behavior and more.
The retail fashion market in Bangladesh is way more challenging than any other place in the world. The availability of the surplus amount of fashion leftover products in the local market, makes it difficult to convince our customers to purchase from fashion retail brands instead of the regional market. Another major challenge is the volume of the order of raw materials. As a retailer, we are dealing with more style than quantity, and that creates an obstacle to place demand for raw materials and prices increase gradually. To overcome these challenges, we have differentiated our products through original designs from our design studio, quality assurance, and before-after sales services. This helps in convincing our customers to choose our branded products instead of other alternatives.
A significant portion of our customers belong to the middle-class socioeconomic group. Keeping that in mind, we have set an ethical pricing strategy based on costs an not psychological pricing. You will find price variation in the same category because of these pricing strategies. Sailor is our dream. Its target is to go global and compete with international top fashion brands. But to go there, the local market is our first and most crucial step. Prioritywise, we always care about the domestic market and serve locals with the best service and quality.
During the pandemic and now in the new normal, how has Sailor adapted to stay ahead of the curve?
The pandemic had been a difficult time for every business. At its peak, we took the decision to close our stores early to ensure the safety of our employees. At Sailor, we always try to take a customer-centric approach and our team was highly engaged this time in social media to create awareness amongst our followers. We also stood beside the community to help others. As a part of our brand social responsibility, we distributed food in different areas of the country and supplied PPE for Covid-authorized hospitals.
We formed our internal covid rescue team, and they were responsible for taking care of any employees’ health issues. Our own enlisted doctors and increased healthcare support continue to provide help round the clock. This helped to instill confidence in the organization amongst the employees and allowed us to remain strong during the crisis. Even when we reopened our stores, we maintained health and safety to the highest degree.
We moved into F-commerce to boost sales, and then launched an E-commerce website for our products, providing safe online shopping facilities for our customers. Keeping customers at the center, we developed our products and services. Utilizing the resources at hand properly, all our designs, production, and communication was based around a 360-degree strategy of time and demand allowing us to maintain good sales.
Despite being a leading RMG supplier, our clothing brands have not yet forged their identity in the global market. What should be the roadmap to establish our brands abroad?
In the last decade, Bangladeshi retail business industries already adopted global technologies and practices. We have a good presence in e-commerce platforms and few of us are offering international shipping options. These activities helped us figure out the growing demand for our products globally, mostly in the countries with a higher number of people originating from this subcontinent. We wish to start with the same philosophy abroad through critical research and analysis – observing the demand trends carefully.
I believe, local brands should establish a strong foothold locally before thinking of going global. E-commerce will give only a specific niche market research for a global market. A brand should know in detail the practices and government regulations of international business. Global demand mapping and internal capacity mapping are essential to enter the global market. One of the most important channels is the supply chain and distribution network. If the brand can ensure all of this, the international market can be on the next agenda.
ON THE ROAD TO CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Bangladesh has the highest number of LEED certified factories of any country. Do you think we’ve been able to build a positive and impactful image based on that and how should we develop this further?
Bangladesh is on the mission to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 2030, after achieving the millennium development goals successfully. Green industrialization is a positive indicator of sustainable development. The readymade garments (RMG) sector of Bangladesh has brought a breakthrough renovation in sustainable industry environment management. The Sustainable approach is for our own good. Green initiatives will definitely bring positive impact on our climate. In that regard, we are already one step forward than our competitors in business competition. Th top international brands have kept energy efficient apparel manufactures on their top priority for business relationship and we have made a strong standing there.
The intention of the RMG investors behind the green transformation of the conventional industries is not only for making profit; rather it’s the commitment of ethical business practice to the environment and people. We need to maintain the eco system of business growth and sustainability together. Knowledge building platform, adoption of technology and transparency across the system can drive our success further.
Globally major clothing and apparel brands are pledging to incorporate more and more sustainable raw materials and processes. Do you think our major suppliers are up for the challenge?
This is very important to identify the impact of Supply Chain Management (SCM) for sustainable growth in Readymade Garments (RMG) sector of Bangladesh. The export-oriented RMG sector has some distinctive features, which differentiate it from other businesses. The RMG should align their supply chain strategies, work together with all the supply chain partners, share infomration among the stages of supply chain, have a standard SCM procedure, comply with the code of conduct, adapt changing technologies and cut lead time to sustain its growth.
With the global apparel industry seeking to transition from a linear to a circular model, how can our apparel makers work towards this?
Textile waste can be divided into pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. The pre-consumer waste is generated at factory floors during cutting, and during the manufacturing process of apparel making, and includes fabric selvedges and leftover fabric scraps. Post-consumer waste is generated by articles like used apparel, towels, bedsheets, carpets, rugs, upholstery, and other textile items.
We can focus on reducing pre-consumer waste by innovative patterns or performance techniques that can be incorporated in manufacturing units. It also introduces a few brands and designers who have taken sustainability to the next level, by using only 100% pre-consumer waste fabric scraps to create new clothing.
This recycling is evident in the apparel industry as well. Waste can be reduced at sample making, cutting, manufacturing, packaging, sewing and finishing levels. One can also reduce the waste by manufacturing large quantities of the same style in different colors or prints, as cutting and production is easier with efficient marker making. I believe, practical knowledge, collaboration and demand of customer needs to be in focal point.
Interviewed by Khondker Faraz