A conversation about the journey towards sustainable production in the textile industry

The textile and fashion industry forms Pakistan's largest economic sector, and yet there are few initiatives to promote social security and environmentally friendly growth. At the same time, demand from international buyers for textiles produced in a fair and environmentally friendly way is increasing. Rehan Ali Bhatti talks about the cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the developments towards new approaches that bring together economic, environmental and social dimensions of production in the textile industry.

Mr Rehan Ali Bhatti is 35 years old and living in Sialkot. He studied Management Science and has over nine years of working experience, of which he spent four years with Awan Sports Industries. He has been with Dekalb Industries for over two years, where he is General Manager in Production and Compliance. Along with other achievements, he managed to win the Innovation Award with Dekalb and was also awarded for his outstanding work performance.

Dekalb Industries is a SME (a Small and medium sized enterprise) located in Nekapura, Sialkot. As manufacturers and exporters of leather textile gloves (50%), apparel (40%), and bags (10%), they employ around 450 workers. Their flagship product is safety gloves majorly exported to the US market. 

GIZ Pakistan met with Mr. Rehan Ali Bhatti to find out more about Dekalb's journey towards sustainable production.

Mr. Bhatti, why did you approach the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)?

In 2022, we planned to start working on the ISO 14001 standard, as an environmental management system is required today. One of my friends who works in the textiles sector introduced me to GIZ as an organisation that works in the development sector. 

I had never thought that it is going to be such a turnaround, a big change to follow the path of progress and development.

Gradually, we involved the whole factory and action has taken place in all areas. During this journey, which is still ongoing, we have experienced a positive change in our company with a new sense of flexibility.

This sounds like a big undertaking. What was it that helped Dekalb on this journey towards sustainable production?

While working on the environmental management system (ISO 14001), we achieved several goals we set for ourselves. One example is the improper storage of chemicals in our factory, which was a big hazard. Therefore, we built a new raw materials storage outside the factory premises. To make a positive contribution to the environment, we have also launched a project called “Green Nekapura”, planting 5000 trees near our vicinity. Another example is our decision to cover 50% of our electricity needs through solar energy and replace the plastic bags used in our areas, from cutting to stitching, with poly bags made from fabric waste.

But the most important measure for us was the Dialogue for Sustainability (DfS), which was a turning point in our partnership with the German Cooperation with its implementing agency GIZ. This dialogue approach allowed us to engage with our managers more frequently and with more enthusiasm. All the managers from the Quality, Production and Purchase department took this measure very seriously because they wanted to improve our production so that we could reduce our costs and become more profitable. During the workshops, where our team discussed problems and found solutions for them, our Change Management Team (CMT) developed various action plans.

The most significant improvement was to increase efficiency from around 11% to 65% and decrease staff turnover from around 16% to 5%. We also changed the production layout to lean manufacturing to minimise waste.

As a result of these set goals, the Board of Directors (BOD) announced a gratuity for our staff, which materialised for the first time after 33 years. This financial expense of around 10 million Rs came as a great surprise to our employees, as they were not even allowed to take casual leave before. This was an important step in attracting and retaining the workforce and was made possible because our employers now see the financial benefits behind it. This has also been accompanied by the restructuring of the Human Resources Department, which is now empowered to make important decisions in the recruitment process, such as inviting applicants to interviews and placing them in a grade according to certain criteria. Another result has been the improvement of our workplace hygiene, which has increased to four daily cleaning cycles involving the entire workforce. 

With the DfS approach also comes the impact of a new employee generation, as it was necessary to recruit new staff with the required skills to solve the identified problems. We realised that our existing workforce could not match the competence required to implement these action plans, such as introducing the method of lean manufacturing in various areas, a method of inspecting the quality of the product in the manufacturing process. We also recruited six industrial engineers and a dedicated purchasing manager to make improvements in the purchasing department. After a lot of brainstorming to hire the new staff accordingly, we hired a total of 40 new employees, which has proved to be very beneficial for us.

The GIZ Team also invited us to an innovation workshop to prepare factories for an innovation competition hosted by the German cooperation. We started working on an idea named “Cool Leather Technology”, which means the leather Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you work with, should not heat you up further in summer. We won the innovation contest with this idea and were very happy about this success as we are a very small company compared to other market players. Since then, we have emphasised innovation, which creates change, growth and development.

How did you make sure that all employees, men and women, benefitted from this cooperation?

Opening a training centre for women was an important factor. For the last 33 years, women have not had a chance to work in this company because social problems and high investments were anticipated. Through the dialogue approach, we had a fruitful exchange with the BOD and discussed the recruitment of women, especially in the context of our skills shortage. Another important point is that international brands are putting more and more emphasis on ensuring equal opportunities in employment and we also have a clause in the agreement that we signed with them, but we did not follow it.

To date, a total of 46 women have enrolled in the training centre and are being trained by a professional with the financial support of the Germans. Of them, 24 women even got regular employment through an official employment contract from Dekalb Industries. This was a successful step we took to empower women.

You have been a change-maker for Dekalb. How do you stay engaged in the future?

As a result of the GIZ cooperation, we are now able to network with industries all over Punjab and I have met many good experts in the industry. Moreover, the measures taken for international certification, changing layouts, methods to reduce costs, hiring women, working on product innovation and focusing on sustainability have made our company competitive in the international market. We are very confident that we will do up to 25 % more business in 2023 than last year. Similarly, I, but also all the managers and workers are earning more as our company became more profitable. We also feel more confident and prepared to take informed decisions when facing future challenges.