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Fashionably conscious

Clothing manufacturer I Apparel is cutting down on waste and championing sustainability in its sector

Home-grown clothing manufacturer I Apparel International Group is helping to elevate benchmarks for the apparel manufacturing industry by embracing lean sustainable manufacturing.

Its chief executive officer Mr Albert Ang Boon Chong says the company, established in 2015, systematically adopts green and sustainable programmes to eliminate waste and cut down on non-essential activities. 

He adds: “Reducing, reusing and recycling wherever possible helps us to reduce costs as well as be conscious of our environmental impact.”

Ensuring energy efficiency

Although the company has offices in Singapore and Hong Kong, its headquarters and main production facility are located in Cambodia. And it is these premises that have been accorded the Singapore Building & Construction Authority’s (BCA) Green Mark Gold ranking, a distinction it attained in 2016 for its eco-friendly features. The BCA Green Mark is a green building rating system that evaluates a building for its environmental impact and performance.

Glass panels line the facility, allowing it to be naturally lit by sunlight in the day. The building is kept cool — even without air conditioning — by a powerful ventilation system comprising large fans installed in the ceiling as well as rooftop vents that allow hot air to escape. Indoor gardens improve the aesthetics and induce calm while also helping to bring the temperature down. 

And as another “green” feather in its cap – the facility will be one of the first apparel manufacturing factories in Cambodia to be fully powered by solar energy when the installation of solar panels on the roof is completed by Q1 next year.

Waste not, want not

To further eliminate waste and boost productivity throughout its manufacturing process, I Apparel began developing its proprietary cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) system Apparel Ezi about three years ago. 

“We process a huge amount of data to pass on to both our clients and team, and realised that if we did not tap on technology, we would have less visibility in the business,” Mr Ang explains.

“We also believe that in a low-tech sector, we need to constantly adopt new technologies in order to communicate better with our staff and clients,” he adds.

The company hopes to increase its efficiency further by implementing artificial intelligence to automate some processes. It is also working on linking up with its clients’ systems. 

“So in the near future, they will also be able to login and check on the live progress of their WIP (work in progress),” Mr Ang says.

Unwavering vision

Being a high-tech company in a low-tech sector, I Apparel has faced particular obstacles and even resistance when it came to transforming its business and championing sustainability.

This was especially so when it decided to build its eco-friendly Cambodia headquarters and manufacturing plant. Initial upfront costs were much higher than a normal factory set-up, and it was challenging to stay within budget and deadlines as they had to spend considerable time and money researching and reviewing new plans and policies for the plant. 

Mr Ang recalls: “A lot of contractors, peers, clients and competitors could not envision what we were trying to do or build. 

“But we stuck to our guns.  Now, we can confidently say that whenever clients visit our facility, they experience a sense of awe at what we have managed to achieve.”

I Apparel, a first-time winner of this year’s Enterprise 50 awards, currently has a staff strength of around 5,000 and a yearly turnover of US$80 million (S$109.9 million). It has aggressive growth plans in the region, and is currently exploring the feasibility of opening new manufacturing plants in countries such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh, as well as expanding its product offerings to cater to more client types.

Mr Ang says: “With (the Enterprise 50) recognition, we are confident that we can continue to grow our business with our valued partners as we look to further expand our operations to other countries.”

“In this market climate, its crucial to constantly reinvent yourself and improve. Constantly innovating and disrupting the industry will help you stay ahead of competition and cater to clients’ ever changing needs.”