Nearchimica is a well known chemical company based out of Italy. Continuing our series of talks during the current crisis with some of the important people in the global denim supply chain , Sandeep Agarwal spoke to the CEO of the company – Robert Camera. He shared his views on how he analyses the current crisis and what resolution he sees for it. We share his views in an informal chat format below.
Sandeep Hi Roberto, How are you ? How’s Italy doing ?
Roberto Hello, I am fine. How are you ? The situation here has been safe for us in this period. We never stopped totally because we are working and not only clearly in the fashion but also in Functional Textile . So a small unit indeed has been working in laboratory and production for PPE, for medical fabric. Most of us is working from home. The situation has effected the region but now it is slightly improving. From 18th of May , more activities will get start but it will be step by step . First we will start the factory and then the restaurants and pubs might start again. The big problem will not only be the production but transportation. They are starting submission for the transport with the big series .
Sandeep What is the major impact you feel from the point of view of industry that this crisis has brought ?
Roberto My idea is that in textiles, the crisis was coming even before the Coronavirus as well because in fast fashion there were problems in over production. So in our opinion the situation could not manage, the coronavirus has given a big shot to this situation of course now we are going to all stop it. Now two months more or less than any country everybody started , we are going to restart now. What we feel about things is totally different. So in this time, virus has effected the basic needs. The basic needs is to ensure that the environment, your people, your family is safe. Everything will be affected and we are giving an opportunity to everyone to re-discuss the situation and the process. It is a change and all these events are opening the doors to different concepts, are creating new links and we must be able to follow these new links.
Sandeep What are the new links you feel?
Roberto The new links will be something which will give new values to the problems you are currently facing. So, today we are changing the way we buy things because you cannot go out of the home but you can buy on e-commerce. On e-commerce, you can buy the essential items which you need in this crisis times. So today , we are having different approach for fabrics and garments. So today we have the problem to send these fabrics in the shop to be safe when you test them so there is quite a requirement something that is so cheap., not so complicated to use but that is also something that can be worn by the people safely and something that is a protection. So we think that more and more players are looking for solutions to this problem.
Sandeep So, any solutions you see currently there or people in the market are still working on it?
Roberto The situation is like a work in progress because it is not easy to adapt different production stream from one day to another. I am speaking about textile in general , the whole industry needs to work not only on the chemistry, not only for producers but to those who are thinking a new way of life. All the garment industry can be involved in these kind of projects. They should come out with solutions to make people connect more easily and safely. Another important factor will be sustainability. I think sustainability will be accelerated by the situation because we see that we need to reduce the waste, to process simpler and ecological and sanitized process that make garment clean. The garment which is not only clean when it goes out of the factory but is clean during transportation also and is not effected by bacteria and other things. So, when you go into shops , you wear it and touch it , it should be safe and protected. So we should produce less because we can’t make garments which are wasted and degrading the earth. We should produce garment which is sold with better values and I think people will look for this kind of finishing.
Sandeep So, you are talking about protection and safety and health of people. From fibers to chemicals to finishing , which segment in the production process needs to put more efforts or which segment is more useful in this situation?
Roberto Yes , you are correct. It can be done on the fabric, on the garment, it depends on the situation how it is managed. It could be applied to millions of garments that are already produced. So, it is something we can adapt to circumstances. We need to collect more information and everything else needs to be planned because the problem is quite serious. I come to the protection like gloves we wear, we use it in time of emergency but this can be a big pollutant for our future. So we need to think is something that can be for washing that automatically is not a waste otherwise you will see ocean full of gloves and masks and we would have created another disaster. So , as we are in starting , we need to start with correct step. We cannot roll again to make the same mistake as the past. This is a stopping rule, now we are forced to stop. We can think of the engineering and process as to how to make it better. We are already dealing with the chemicals and we are against the waste. So the technological developments for saving the environment will be helpful for this because it will give good economical results as we don’t have waste and also good environment results as waste is not going into water. If this is too much , it can damage the environment. So, machine builders, chemists, apparel people , designers. If we work together , we can realize something helpful for the business, and also for the people and environment.
Sandeep Do you think people like machine manufacturers, designers etc. are all coming together like this?
Roberto Something is moving , as it is the starting , I can’t tell you if this will help the business like that. But for sure when the market is asking something, people who do satisfy the requirement of market first normally are in a better position . This will start again with just producing what you need. The first thing to take into account is to take from the environment just what you need and not more and this is for food, textiles, energy and everything. So , we have to live our life with only necessary things avoiding travel etc. There were points in the past where we were doing unnecessary things. So , we should use digital technology more just as we are using now. We can use this technology to make garment presentations without the need of travelling the world and we can use digital platforms to share the garment details. So at the end after this huge disaster, if we learn the lesson , we can do better and more interesting things for everybody, also for the economy because there is no sense in producing large no. of garments without profit. It is better to produce less with reasonable profit for everybody. We need laboratories to support the customers who are making these kind of projects.
Sandeep In terms of supply chain, we have seen the manufacturing destinations like Bangladesh , Vietnam, China, Pakistan, India etc. So which of these places do you see has been more effected and which will be recovering the fastest based on the strengths they have?
Roberto Probably , the countries which recover faster according to the situations will be the ones which are not directly connected to the main market. Now , Europe is going more or less out of the lockdown. So, those countries that supply to Europe and European brands probably will start first. I must say that about brands that still are buying garments , we must keep these things going on. So it will start from Europe and then United States which may enter later . So I don’t think it all will start very quickly . June will probably be the month when things will start . This is why I say that this is the time to prepare ourselves. In this time, I have not been lockdown myself as everyday I try to understand how to adapt the situation , how to sanitize the garments in the shop because the first question that everybody is asking is how can we clean the garments first before trying. So, we are thinking of cabins where you can put some spray and things like that to clean and sanitize because this is important. In our company also , we are dividing the people to keep the volume but to maintain distance. In Germany also , they are not fully lockdown and are moving on working and that what we are also trying to do.
Sandeep Coming to consumers, as you already said that they will want to have the safety first, they need to be assured of their health and safety when they are going out for shopping. So, as consumers , what other changes you see in the consumer preferences coming up in next few months? Health concern is the biggest concern but apart from health concern?
Robert There are two issues , first we have to face also the economic crisis but in the same time there is also another situation when people will be out of this , they will want to go out and shop again . SO maybe there will be a bit of compensation. I think that being a crisis period , the first demand will be of what is necessary . So, I think schools also have to be safe on priority for kids. So , I think the primary need will be the first and denim work is very unique, its for pleasure , for work , for business, for free time . It is a strong garment which you can wear and wash easily. I really think we can have an opportunity in this difficult period. I don’t mean it is easy , don’t misunderstand me but denim can go back to the origin and can be a garment for everybody.
Sandeep I was reading an article today regarding 1918 Spanish flu and how the fashion changed after that. People did not wash the garments too much during the flu , that was occasional washes. After the flu, the washing of garments increased tremendously. So that is probably something which we would see after this crisis that people who were not washing the garments much before for multiple cycles will probably wash them more after the crisis and that will change.
Roberto I tell you honestly , if you consider the denim industry like is , we would want to sanitize the fabric but completely running it will be difficult. There was no more value concept of this fabric . So , for too much time we have been compromising the cost of the garment but not looking at the value of the garment. We need to come back to the restoration of the denim image and this is also true for the garment industry because there are plenty of garments but not really the garment what you actually need and at this moment the basic needs will be the dominating factor. Then after some time , we will see there are other situations where also Faschion will be again important whatever can happen ; this virus has been a shock to understand that things can happen. Protection on garments is like an insurance policy , sometimes you pay the premium for nothing but the moment that something bad happens, insurance can definitely make the difference. and for many years we have destroyed this concept. So , I think it is very important to learn the lesson.
Sandeep Do you think the retailers will learn from this because after coming from these crisis a lot of people will have less money , So , they will be looking for cheaper garments and then these retailers will again become active who are looking to create those cheap garments? So again we might get caught in the same cycle again.
Roberto Yes and no. So , there will be always pressure from big brands for reducing price but I tell you that the cost for these treatments are not much expensive than producing something else. It is something that can be measured also on mass production. There is not really economical issue . Really that is not doing something better and on the contrary I think that we can live in more safe and more sustainable way also. If you can see the amount of money that everybody is spending on the unsold garments and you just take half and spend it on a better type of garment , you still save a lot.
Sandeep Any other key changes that you see in the character of denim fabrics or apparel sector happening as such apart from what you have mentioned?
Roberto If we try to give more value to the garment, it would be more important in the apparel sector. It depends on the opportunity of change. If you refuse this opportunity , this change will normally ruin you. So , we must see the situation and find out ways how we can improve it and must realize our mistakes. It is a shock to everybody and we are trying to restore everything . We are beginning to understand what to do and what not to do but keeping in mind the emergency , we need to think more in a sustainable way even with the protection and PPE.
Sandeep Any other positives you see from the current situation coming out ?
Roberto We are trying to think for long term , helping the people to recover and keep alive their activities like those who live in a small village. As you can’t go out to malls as they are crowded and not safe so , the services like door to door and nearby services will become more and more useful because the big distribution was killing the subject. So this is why we have also to re-think how we are doing the things. Not so much on the product side because the production side has been crucial and more sustainable. In the market, probably a lot of things need to be think in a new way.
Sandeep We can see that in India also, only small shops are open right now and all the bigger ones are closed. So , as consumers, if after the crisis, we continue to support these shops , then only they can be benefited.
Roberto I think this situation as we define it in our way of going, people will avoid the big crowd, or barbers etc. For sure, we will be far from crowd. We would like to be sure that what we are doing is safe. So our colleagues are intend to help people who are in need. People in the company comes from travelling through metros and trains, so they carry overalls and get them cleaned. But the good thing is we are having meetings with our customers and high ranking people as well. We have been in talks with our competitors also to discuss the ideas of coping. They are also using ozone to sanitize. So, there has been a very big contribution of ideas and I would say this is a good thing in this time. We are sharing ideas in a fine way and collaboration amongst the companies gives us better way to find the solution.
Sandeep Collaboration is very important activity for the future, that’s correct !
Roberto You need to work in a team because you need knowledge and you cannot have full and specific knowledge in every field . Eg we need more twisted yarn and we have been sharing these ideas in all our supply chain and also among the colleagues to understand how much it is better and what steps should be taken. Customers also must realize that they should not waste the products and use them till usable. It is a big stress as we are in a very bad situation but it is a melting pot.
Sandeep And the new things will come out.
Roberto Hopefully. I also want to thank you for giving us this live talk so that we can share our thoughts with everybody through this platform. It helps us to introduce new arguments and tell them to different people.
Sandeep Yes, the idea is basically to share our ideas. All of us are sitting at home and thinking it is the time to share our ideas and it also gives a comfort with(to) each other.
Roberto It is important to keep things running and I hope brands keep running because a stop would be really the worst thing. Slowly but we must keep things moving and update them time to time with all the ideas and products according to the new situation. But it is important that the brands would play the game in a fair way.
Sandeep Yes absolutely. So before I ask you the last question , I just want to tell everybody who are watching , if you have any questions , please put up right now as we may take some .You already spoken about collaboration and cooperation with each other, any other recommendation you want to convey to the industry in these difficult times?
Roberto Everywhere, this situation is leaving in personal way or company way. So what we say is to keep things going on and to look forward. Not to stop at this moment because for sure there will be a new start from this crisis and we should think positive. We are crossing that moment and we will go out. The more we are connected and the more we try to do things in a better way, the better it would be. These kinds of talks, discussions etc. to understand each other views is very important because it is important for understanding and planning. We can take this opportunity of this gap to make an understanding of this step to make the next step.
Sandeep Actually this is the big opportunity for creative thinking. We don’t get this kind of time to spend so much time on thinking.
Roberto Yes, I agree with you. This is the time for thinking. With positive thinking, what we can do, how we can start and what is also do to avoid mistakes. But , we need to move out for sure.
Sandeep One of the question that come up here in our Instagram is What is the better way to treat? Is it better to treat garment or fabric? As we are thinking of new ways of treatment in apparel so what is better to treat on fabric or garment?
Roberto I would say again both. If we are speaking of denim, we can make this treatment for those garments which are sold like raw denim and fabric, otherwise is better to finish like final finishing. Also, it depends on the final article, If I am selling raw, so after drastic washing I can take it to treated fabric which is more easy and cheaper otherwise I can do it on garment. But I am also thinking not to only to the pants and shirts but for other apparel also for sure we need to be sanitized every time. So, most of the treatment in these laundry can be suitable for this application. So, when we think to grow out of this situation , we want a larger horizon. For ready made bed linen, for instance, , you can’t treat the fabric, but you can treat them during laundry. Also it will be with the same machines, you can use spray process in closed equipment, it will be by fog application. You can use machine that you know very well. There is plenty of option. If you want something very cheap and can go in motion.
Sandeep Do you see any change in the natural fibers vs. artificial fibers being usage post COVID?
Roberto In face masks the fabric used is polyester and in apparel cotton and cotton fibers are used naturally . The target is to make something which is washable minimum 10 times and still performing in a correct way. This is what we want to realize. We are thinking of some uniforms and others , so it is not only something you wear for fashion , these are done for other activities also. This garment can be treated in different ways. And when the cycle is repeated you need to replace the garment and that you cannot do on your own , you need to do it in the industry. What we want to avoid is to reduce the number of wastage because otherwise the massive disposal will create pollution and we will create another big issue.
Sandeep So recycling becomes more important in terms of the new items we have started to use now.
Roberto Yes, Ferrari is making valves for breathing equipment. So, if one company is transforming the production from machines to breathing equipment, then apparel industry should also try to transform into other useful things.
Sandeep Finally , I would like to thank you for a wonderful discussion and on the points you have enlightened us. All the viewers have also enjoyed it and they have been commenting along with. We have learned from you and thankyou again for joining the show.
Roberto I thankyou for this opportunity. Let us keep in touch. Please feel free to contact us if you are in any need. Goodbye to all the people who have joined this discussion. Keep safe and we are always available.