Seamless integration

by Ada Ng

Shirley Li, executive vice president
manufacturing (Greater China)
Clover Group International Ltd
Photo: Edde Ngan

Lingerie manufacturer sews up new opportunities with a cutting-edge plan

The intimate garment manufacturing industry is reaching a critical juncture with competition from low-cost manufacturing countries looming on the horizon. As a result, Hong Kong manufacturers are strengthening their design capability and manufacturing technology to stay ahead of the global game. Among these is homegrown lingerie manufacturer Clover Group International Ltd.

Shirley Li, executive vice president, manufacturing (Greater China), Clover Group International Ltd, notes the sector now confronts a mixed bag of challenges and opportunities. On one side, Hong Kong manufacturers are facing increased competition from their mainland counterparts, who are quick to catch up with international trends and growing rapidly in size and scale. On the other, new opportunities are emerging for Hong Kong companies through new fabric and sewing technology developments. "Innovation in design aesthetics and demand for more comfortable garments by international lingerie labels have also provided new opportunities for local manufacturers," says Mr Li.

In particular, the role of contract manufacturers has now expanded from a simple CMT (cut, make and trim) order. "In view of the growing number of manufacturers available in low-cost manufacturing countries, we are moving away from the 'stitch and sew' era and have been improving manufacturing processes to create value for customers," Ms Li remarks. "The secret for any established contract manufacturer is, therefore, to catch new opportunities while keeping production processes sound and cost effective."

Established in 1956, Clover Group International Ltd is a contract manufacturer of intimate garments that specialises in manufacturing lingerie for major international labels. In addition to its head office in Hong Kong, the company operates factories in Dongguang China, Phnom Penh in Cambodia and soon India.

New threads

Traditionally in the manufacturing industry, an emphasis on cost reduction would hinder the cultivation of resources and stagnate the environment for creative work. Recognising this, Clover Group set up a special project team a few years ago to work with the garment design faculties of universities in Shanghai and Hong Kong to develop new bonding, wielding and heat-sealing technologies to make seamless lingerie more efficiently.

Ms Li says that lead-time management is vital in staying ahead of the competition. "With improved technologies, Clover Group is capable of speeding up the manufacturing process and in turn ensuring faster delivery of merchandise to the sales floor," she explains. "Our rationale for investing in technology is to increase responsiveness to customer demands and raise our profile as a sophisticated manufacturer."

The company's investment in R&D (research and development) also goes hand-in-hand with the development objectives of the Guangdong province. In the reform and development guidelines unveiled by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) for the Pearl River Delta in 2008, the region will be a new testing ground for the mainland's economic reforms. The plan encourages development of technology-based manufacturing at the heart of the region and sets a goal to transfer the labour intensive manufacturing industries to less-developed regions in China. Tax breaks and other incentives are offered by the Guangdong government to encourage the development of high technology-based manufacturing.
"The time is ripe to lead the way in the lingerie manufacturing industry," Ms Li remarks.

New horizons

In a bid to capitalise on the changing economic environment, Clover Group is turning to the growing demand of intimate apparel on the mainland. "We'll consider launching our branded products to target this specific market," Ms Li says.

Two years ago the company started a lingerie design team to focus on developing its ODM (original design manufacturing) line. As the value of lingerie lies in the functionality as well as its integration into fashion, Ms Li says it is essential to have a dedicated team that understands and assesses consumers' tastes and preferences to create a product portfolio that fits into the mainland consumer market.

Aside from technological development, she emphasises that people remain the greatest asset of the company. "Lingerie manufacturing is a people business," she notes. "From design to merchandising, production, logistic planning and client servicing, it's down to the members of our team to support product quality and on-time delivery."

Ms Li anticipates the company will soon be looking for talented staff to fill the creative and technical positions in the company. On the other hand, Clover Group supports the policy of "promote from within". Since producing lingerie is a highly technical process, Ms Li says the company is active in retaining and developing its skilled workforce by offering them career prospects. "They may also develop laterally and work in different departments," she confirms.

Personal matters

  • Hong Kong manufacturers to improve design and process to stay competitive
  • Business opportunities exist through new fabric and sewing technology
  • Investment in R&D to ensure delivery
  • Promote-from-within policy integral to talent retention and development

Taken from Career Times 16 April 2010, B3

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