Ebru Debbag – Soorty Enterprises : Shares Views On Effects Of Covid 19

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In our continued quest to get views of different stakeholders of the global denim industry , people whose views matter, we spoke to Ebru Debbag – Executive Director, Global Sales and Marketing  Soorty Enterprises , (Pakistan) on how she sees the impact #Covidtimes will have on all of us. Sandeep Agarwal spoke to her to get his views on the situation on our Denimsandjeans Instagram and we reproduce parts of the talk.

Sandeep:
Hi Ebru , How are you ?

Ebru:
Hi Sandeep, I am good . How are you?

Sandeep:
I am fine. So , it is lockdown times and I believe you must be doing lot of yoga as you are an yoga expert.

Ebru:
Yes I am doing Yoga and meditation.

Sandeep:
I need to learn from you sometime.So how’s everything? how these difficult times and how are you hoping ?

Ebru:
Both on individual basis, on community ,on business we are in this all together.The whole globe is suffering so I don’t think that there has been such an one single issue that unfortunately has united us all and I think I am looking at how to learn from this time. Actually this is a time that we will tell our grandchildren about and we have to make more use of what’s happening right now. So; I think it’s essential to try to read in between the lines you know. I mean we have time to do this; so we have to settle down and we have to read in between the lines both as individuals and on business level.

Sandeep:
So on a personal level and professional level what changes do you feel have come and  what do you think how you will make adjustments to these changes ?

Ebru:
I think it’s too early to make very clear predictions .So it’s very important to acknowledge what’s happening right now and there’s a lot of information .There’s a lot of misinformation as well regarding the virus regarding what’s going to happen. So; I don’t think anybody right now knows how this situation will evolve .We definitely know that on the business level that there will be a reduction in global spending some say 40 percent some say 50 percent but definitely. We’re seeing this across all industries; businesses are shrinking. So how do we really maintain the shrinkage and not turn it into a whole destruction and closure .That’s what we’re looking at as the whole industry. There are many things happening on the personal level of course .It’s a learning process , I’m a very positive person. I try to look at the positive side of things and try to learn from the situations .I’m trying very hard to understand first, acknowledge this situation, assess myself and then reacting and I think this is also relevant on the business level. It’s very important first of all to assess. Make an assessment of our situation on the company level, on the industry level, on the community level. Look at our relationships, look at how we build our communities how we related to our customers, how we related to our families, to the whole supply chain. This assessment is very important I think and then as time goes by I think we will be able to make more predictions into the future, I’m reading a lot of reports, I’m trying to understand and learn from different industries not just looking at the fashion industry so that we can benefit and be tempted to use what’s happening in the different industries.

Sandeep:
So what’s happening in SOORTY as a company from Pakistan. So; what do you see the Pakistan textile industry, how they are adjusting themselves? and how they are responding to this crisis?

Ebru:
We are currently in lockdown and lockdown is extended till April 13th. Before we went into lockdown, we wanted to make sure that we can again bring safety and health to our employees. That was our priority when before we went into lockdown. We implemented many measures to make sure that we can ensure a safe working environment and currently we have helped build an isolation ward as well as an intensive care unit at the National Institute of Child Health in Karachi. National Institute of Child Health have in Karachi actually caters to the needs of the families who do not have the necessary resources. So; again it’s how you relate to your community defines your authenticity as well. It’s not any marketing effort and I would even not call this a CSR effort. It’s coming from a very genuine place and a reach out so that we can really relate to our communities. We are also looking at what we can do once the lock downs are lifted to ensure that we can guarantee a safe and healthy working environment for our employees. This is our priority. We’re looking more at the human side and of course business is important as it is what makes us move forward, but I think it’s essential to look at the human side of the business. At times as such humanity comes through the leadership. This just doesn’t happen overnight; you either have it or you don’t and if you have it you put it into action. We’re making a lot of leadership efforts to make sure that we put our humanity in action.

Sandeep:
So in terms of consumer because now the consumer is already around the world has faced this problem and the most of the people in lockdown. You think this is changing the perception of consumers over a period of time ? and is it already changed in relation to fashion and shopping ?

Ebru:
For sure like we’ve mentioned that the global spending is reduced 40 to 50 percent and apparel industry, fashion industry is impacted in a huge way . So; we will definitely live through the consequences. As for the denim industry , the consumer had already started to become more aware of sustainability , the environmental impact that the industry was making and now I think we will see more value driven consumption. There will be a need for more authenticity and purposeful design . This is going to become very important . The consumers will look for quality and value and this value is not related only to the product, it’s related more to the system. So; #whomademyclothes will become more of a mainstream and symbol of transparency. Storytelling will become very important. The other aspect is we are now embracing a digital life, so we will see more on-demand consumption happening and this on-demand consumption will also drive on demand manufacturing. Again; we need to look into what this means for denim and jeans. For example; how we can make perfect fits. Definitely demand driven businesses will be very important because we will not produce for landfills anymore. We will need to get the real data to drop business models to make sure that we can produce what’s going to sell out in the market. Consumer will demand more storytelling but again more attentive storytelling, Digital and authentic storytelling; not just explaining the beauty of the product but more explaining where it’s coming from, how it’s made, what takes it to make one product, what’s the environmental impact. All these features are going to be embedded in one single product. We’re looking at more of a system starting from products to collections. I think it’s very important to understand that we are now embracing a no touch economy and it has totally different dynamics than what we were used to so we have to break it down to understand what this means for our industry and for our business. We worked out a digital garment at SOORTY and this is how we launched our cradle to cradle denim fabric and it was tough. This was 2 years ago, so a lot of innovation came in the recent two years. Denim is not very easy to work out digitally because you get you have so many different aspects of the fabric that you integrate into the washing which makes the product itself. We have to understand how we can cater to all these needs. There’s a lot to be done and progressive companies, innovative companies, creative companies who can really relate to all these different aspects of the future will accomplish to exist.

Sandeep:
The digital denim that you mentioned just now in cradle to cradle, can you explain a little more how you really create ? is it you start from the yarn stage or how does it work ?

Ebru:
C2C is a system design and first of all it’s a third party authorization; the certification of not just the product as the system needs to be authorized as well. It’s how you design a product where you can use only certain ingredients. The raw materials, the dye stuff you can use are specified and you need to define a process which is secure to produce a cradle-to-cradle product. Then you go through all this very rigorous certification and you get your product certified. So we hold the first the cradle-to-cradle certification both for fabrics and jeans .We wanted to utilize our advantage of being a vertical company and this is how we approached the system and we did not go for one product and have a defined the process of cradle to cradle, and any product that can pass through that defined process is C2C certified.

Sandeep:
You mentioned couple of points, so one is storytelling to the consumer. Now that has been I would say the weakest link in the chain. Whenever we consider what we’re trying to communicate to the consumer , consumer is lost. He doesn’t know really which story to follow, which brand to follow. Every brand is claiming we are doing this , we are doing that –  there’s no uniformity. So that storytelling is important but uniformity in storytelling is not there and I don’t know how it will come again ? or will it come or not?

Ebru:
I think you need to look at the system again and you need to look at the value definition and this cannot happen by individual companies. We need to look at value chain, the brands have to work together with the manufacturers to authentically create all these stories . We have the technology, we have invested in the technology. Now it’s time to really make sure that information gets through to the consumers as well because they want to embrace authentic consumption. It’s not just authentic manufacturing but we need consumers to embrace authentic consumption . The whole supply chain needs to transform into a value chain and there will be companies who will lose because we know that sustainability has been also a marketing campaign some of these companies. This definitely has to change.

Sandeep:
But I think this will be possible basically when the common grading standards are there eg in  electronic products, the government has certain standards. They set up the standards in rating and five-star ratings or whatever kind of ratings . They do the things you know everybody will fall in line and create the products according to those standards. That is something what I feel is missing in our industry and there has to be some kind of global standards which have to come and which will enable this story to become genuine.

Ebru:
Yes it’s not very easy because it’s such a huge industry and very segmented and geographically dispersed. I think again it’s very important to break it down and make it understandable to consumers so that consumers can actually make the right choice. We have a platform totally dedicated to communicate with the consumers, to let them know what’s happening in the industry. It’s called Future Possibilities. It’s got its own web site and we were conducting seminar series at the Denimcity Amsterdam and now we will be doing it online. In the coming few weeks, we will launch our Future Possibilities seminar series online to connect with the community but more to inform the consumers. I think the idea of global standards is great but it’s very difficult for that global standards to be standardize and before we go there, we need to kind of build the link with the consumer and the right brands so that we can inform them of the choice they have.

Sandeep:
That’s what so it would be like educative tutorials for them and they can understand what’s happening behind the scenes.

Ebru:
Yes

Sandeep:
Okay so coming to my next question is again from your one of the answers that will be the future business will be data driven. So when we are talking about data driven are we really giving the higher importance to online sales because online sales it’s easier to collect data.

Ebru:
Yes there are some companies from brands who have been already working on this idea extensively. The whole idea of influencer drop models where drop collections come through the influencers and then the brands test-drive the market and then again go back to manufacturing with that information. We have now embarked a no touch economy . Data it’s going to be very important. There’s also the problem with the returns in e-commerce. How to cut down returns coming from fits is a challenge. How to really make the perfect fit ? AI driven models will help so that we can introduce perfect products that the consumers will be likely to keep.

Sandeep:
Now coming to a painful question in this  crisis  and that is the cancellations by big retailers around the world. So I’m just generally comparing different regions . Do you see cancellations differing from region to region  . Are brands giving more importance to certain regions ?

Ebru:
I would not be able to make a hundred percent correct comment here. What I see is that some companies are fulfilling their responsibilities. Some you know are still in discussion because they are also suffering as well. My point of view here is that I’m not reacting to fast fashion. As some of know industry friends are reacting. We need fast-fashion but we need fast fashion to transform and we need fast fashion to survive and become sustainable and responsible. The current situation that doesn’t allow us to say end of fast fashion. We need to come together to look at this model and see how we can really transform it. Fast fashion actually did not start to consume the industry, it started with the idea to democratize fashion and it needs to go back to that. That’s why I’m saying over and over, maybe I’m hooked on that we need to look at the system rather than like singling out issues and again here looking at the system, we have to collaboratively make the system work. This is why the brands and the manufacturers, the whole supply chain need to sit together and try to really cater to the future. It’s nothing we’ve seen before and I’m trying to also understand what is happening when brands are opening up both on the luxury level on the mid-market, on the high street level. If brands have stocks or not, if those stocks could be repurposed; we need to look at all of these and it needs sitting together and looking at the situation together.

Sandeep:
In terms of denim fabrics, what are the major changes you see that coming to denim fabrics as product ? Do we need to reinvent ourselves and change our segments or repurpose ourselves ? What we should do?

Ebru:
Again it’s a broad question and there’s a broad answer as well. A lot of development has already been happening in the denim industry through technology, technological advancements. I was one of the first ones to introduce the idea of functional technological denim fabrics into the industry and we’re talking like 10-15 years ago. In the meantime, not so much happened in that category because there’s a certain limitation as to how the denim fabrics are manufactured. With design for purpose we have seen many new fibers and raw material integration into the industry such as Dyneema for durability, four way stretch for higher performance some outdoor brands and sportswear brands embraced use of denim fabric . Again limited use but good ideas like blood circulation, phase changing materials, Coolmax ; a lot of ideas. I think we need to look at the functions like pollution reactive. That’s an area which is growing and I think the fashion could play a big role there . Anti-pollution gas sensors is a fast growing industry and we will have those gas sensors probably everywhere, on our windows, on our phones and on our clothing. Denim could actually play an active role. Again; thinking out of the box how we can really embrace more and integrate more of the climate crisis, pollution crisis features to make our jeans and denim ca be a solution to all these problems and we need to work with cross industry innovation. It cannot happen just with our industry`s way of thinking. We need to kind of come together with I would say crazy minds and innovation labs and try to take those ideas to mass production. We’ve seen great startups coming through accelerators and we need to kind of sit together and collaborate with those startup ideas and see how we can bring them to mass production . Speaking of denim, we have to bring back its value, its authenticity but again as a system not as a product but as a system. And we have to look at the digital product as well, and how we can devise the digital manufacturing.

Sandeep:
How can we contribute to health ? How can denim be a part of the health story ?

Ebru:
Again this anti-pollution area is one thing that we need to look at and we can build awareness through our products as well. I mean jeans and denim they are ubiquitous, so all ages all of the people everyone wears them. That’s where the storytelling also comes in place, so that we can use denim as a change element for the future.

Sandeep:
Because I was looking at some reports also China the factories, apparel factories they are out there many of these factories working on the one factor of PPE equipment, gowns and suits and all those things. So I don’t know if we can sometime in the near future we can reinvent ourselves as a health product and you know this denim can be a part of the story that way. It can be used as a protective equipment by the health industry by the professionals, by their doctors and other people for the health workers. That would be a big thing.

Ebru:
Antibacterial has been there through fibers and coatings for a long time. Antiviral is one area that denim hasn’t touched yet. There is one company right now claiming to have an antiviral component. Innovation is what we need to constantly look at and it will become even more important. How do we really add value to the products, to our denim and jeans?.

Sandeep:
In terms of digitalization, you already spoke so you think going let’s say next few months we are out of this crisis, do you think we’ll still retain a number of these facilities using to digitalize our lives in terms of professional lives because many people are seeing benefits in that and it looks like many of these things might become part of life and we may not really want to leave them even if they are out of the crisis ?

Ebru:
Yes I think some of the behavioral change will remain like traveling less. We’ve seen that some online and digital systems work, so we don’t really need to go all the way to another country to have a meeting. We at Soorty are working on a digitized online version of our collection and we will make one-to-one appointments with our customers, so that we can take them through this system. It’s happening with what we have available now; but we can definitely enhance once everything goes back being operational.  We can enhance that system further and that will save time and save cost for a lot of people, for a lot of companies and it will make things more accessible. The companies who are really investing in digital solutions will have better communication with their customers for sure. The other thing is now that everyone is at home in lockdown people are investing in well-being and that’s an area that we need to look at and how we can use denim as an element of well-being and also comfort. Can denim be as comfortable to become our daily home wear ?

Sandeep:
What are the biggest positive you see from personally at personal level as well as professional way from the situation from this crisis ?

Ebru:
Like I said probably we will stop to produce for landfills. Sustainability might have a chance, it might have a chance to work.

Sandeep:
You think that it’d be really strong after these crisis?

Ebru:
In terms of global spending limitations , yes. In two years will people go back to their normal level of earnings? I don’t know what will happen but sustainability might have a chance on a more global scale. I think it’s that’s the positive side. We have started thinking and linking individual cases like climate change as being embedded into business. It’s not a concept out there happening on its own; so this is the time to really assess what’s happening globally and I am thinking that this could be a very big warning call for us. Actually the pandemic could be a warning call for something worse; that could happen in the future through climate change, through all this disruption. Currently we’re not seeing climate crisis as a life-and-death issue but when we come to the understand that it’s a life-and-death issue, then we start thinking differently. I think this pandemic and the lockdowns gave us that signal and on a personal level I’m trying to make more use of my day. I am feeling very appreciative of the help I used to have and the help I have now so I feel huge appreciation for people who are working to make our life in lockdown feel more safe. I’m very busy actually. I mean like I have a work and life balance still but I’m very busy because I have to cook I have to clean and work. I also take care of myself and my son but we have a regular daily practice yoga practice. It’s different kind of bonds that you make; initially with yourself because it’s more quiet right now. I’ve been with the industry for over three decades so over thirty years I am always on the road so probably in the last 20 years this is the only four weeks that I haven’t travelled and it’s a new phase and I am learning a lot.

Sandeep:
Do  you have a garment which you could wear you know right in the morning or do yoga meditation then when you’re cooking still it’s there and then you are taking care of your kids or people at home and still it’s there and when you are working and interacting with your company colleagues and all still you are getting it. You think you do wish that kind of garment actually ?

Ebru:
Yes we  already do. We have amazing products and concepts that we are introducing with the coming collection but it’s not just SOORTY it’s the whole industry that we have been constantly innovating. Maybe innovating without really informing the customers in depth. So it’s time to go deeper now as we have the time to sit across somebody and talk about one single product and try to relate to the beauty of it. The technology, the concept behind it because so much work goes in coming up with one concept and most of the time you don’t really have the time to talk about that to your customers. So I think now we have it if you have that chance and that’s what we try to integrate into our digital collection as well.

Sandeep:
That’s great, so anything else you would like to say do the denim community, your friends and people are also there online right now, everybody else from your side?

Ebru:
We all have to look into the future with a big heart and a big mind and this is very important to stay still positive. These are very tough times globally and we’re all in this together and we will come out of this together. It’s very important to really communicate even on an individual base to ask how we are feeling how the other person is feeling. Reach out to each other because we relate to one another. I mean people from the industry relate to one another in a more profound way. Our friendship for instance with you is over many years and we remained in contact. This is an industry built on trust and collaborative approaches. Let’s stay positive let’s stay healthy be safe.

Sandeep:
Any two or three key words which you feel are the strongest key words for you during this time , any you know whether this personal professional or whatever ?

Ebru:
Authenticity, Responsibility and Compassion.

Sandeep:
All right, that’s great. Thank you so much and  that was a wonderful talk because we in the last few days we have been always meeting at the shows and all and you know now it’s time to really good Easter and we are talking to each other and facing each other digitally.

Ebru:
Thank you so much and you are really bringing a lot of people together and building a great archive. So thank you for all the work that you are doing.

Sandeep:
I think you said that’s so nice of you and I also want to thank my team my entire team is working very hard you know I think probably we are working more than normal times and everybody is involved and we you know the video is a shared and converted into articles and everything is you know it’s a lot of what we are doing so I want to thank my team profusely. They really working very hard and my daughters and my you know wife also very much involved in this helping me a lot so I want to thank everybody.

Ebru:
My heartfelt gratitude to them as well.

Sandeep:
Thank you.

Ebru:
Thankyou. Stay Safe.

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