Infiiloom, a Pune-based Indian enterprise, is fast-tracking its journey towards becoming a world-class socks company. With a fleet of over 1600 Lonati machines and three state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, the company today is India’s largest knitter as well as the largest exporter of socks to leading apparel & retail brands. Led by dynamic entrepreneur Rohit Pal, the company has strategic plans to make India a leading player in the global socks business. D.J. Gohain spoke to Mr. Pal recently about his journey and future plans. Here is an excerpt…
How did the journey start for you and how Infiiloom became the largest socks manufacturer in India?
Our journey in socks manufacturing started in 1997 as a joint venture between Intersocks SRL and an Indian family with a modest 30 knitting machines. We renamed ourselves Renfro India in 2002 after Renfro Corp. acquired 50% ownership in the JV. In 2003, we acquired the Nashik facility and grew from a single location to multiple locations in addition to our main facility in Pune.
Renfro, at that time, was among the world’s largest socks manufacturers, which gave us access to the US market. We were largely servicing Renfro’s US accounts. Walmart was one of them under the licensing arrangement Renfro had with the Fruit of the Loom brand. Business gradually grew and in 2004, I moved to the Netherlands to set up Renfro’s business facility in Europe. I came back in 2005 and continued to drive the Indian business forward in various capacities. As our business grew in India, I was given the responsibility to set up Renfro Japan in 2012. The idea was conceived in around late 2010 and in 2012 we set up the operations in Japan.
By 2014, as part of the global leadership team at Renfro, I was managing operations across Japan, China, India and Europe.
In 2017-18, with a change in leadership at Renfro, the direction was more towards making it a sales and marketing led organisation with a lesser focus on manufacturing. Therefore, in 2018, the Pal family agreed to acquire 100% of Renfro India’s investments in the country. After the acquisition, we renamed ourselves to what we are known today as Infiiloom India.
How you grew the business in Infiiloom?
We have been growing rapidly in the last few years. Along with the US retail and wholesale socks market, we have made inroads into several other markets like the European Union, Japan, and GCC region. We shall be close to a Rs 500 crore company by the end of FY 2022.
Last year, we set up our third manufacturing facility in Nellore with 720 knitting machines. Investment in the Nellore facility is complete now, and it is running in full swing.
Our plans for the future are aggressive as it stands today. We are preparing for another capacity enhancement in Silvassa with around 1200 knitting machines and a fully integrated finishing facility. The capital outlay for the Silvassa facility shall be around Rs 200 crore, and it will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Infiiloom India. This investment will help us ramp up annual production to over 250 million pairs of socks.
For this facility, we shall look at exploring the recently announced PLI scheme by the Government of India.
We are also actively looking at a strategic investment in Africa to leverage the advantages of AGOA and to have duty-free access to the United States and to European markets for our products. We are doing a pre-feasibility study to set up a manufacturing facility in any of the African countries that offer such opportunities to invest. When that happens, it will be our first initiative to invest in manufacturing outside our country and it should happen by early 2023.
Our office in the Middle East – Infiiloom DMCC, provides us access to the proposed manufacturing project in the African continent along with opening up the GCC markets.
In India, we are a strategic manufacturing partner as well as a licensee for Adidas socks. We also partner with the Defense Forces to manufacture specialty socks for military establishments that are used in high-altitude areas like Ladakh and Siachen.
We intend to become a large, fully integrated Indian textile company with a focus area on socks. We are also looking at backward integration to have better control over the raw material supply chain.
That’s a little bit about our business activities in terms of manufacturing, sales and distribution.
How did you grow the business beyond boundaries? What did you do differently?
There are three or four things that stand out.
Our partnership with Renfro gave us deep insight into the US socks business in terms of how the socks business operates, margin structures, consumer preferences and so on. With most American companies looking to reduce their vendor base, scale becomes a key aspect to service any US wholesale or retail business set up. We have a US sales office that manages backend relationships and brings product designs and innovations to the table.
Also, in our business, needle count is a critical criterion. We have excelled in this aspect and have grown our capacities in specific needle counts, which is essential to meeting needs in the US as well as the global space. As a result, we have emerged as a dominant player and are able to provide good amount of manufacturing flexibility as well as the scale required to drive large programs in the required turnaround time.
Thirdly, you can call it – we are at the right place at the right time! The China plus one strategy is not just a talk but a reality today. We at Infiiloom are experiencing it firsthand. In the whole scenario of Covid, companies that have the capability, in terms of capacity and capital to scale up or set up large textile facilities are better strategically placed.
In the textile industry, leadership plays a key role to drive the business successfully as it needs day-to-day focus. I believe, we have been able to deliver that responsibility well so far. Success breeds on how the business is handled and serviced in a challenging scenario. The business that we have acquired in the last 24 months and how we have handled as well as serviced them in a tight supply chain scenario has provided each of them a great degree of reassurance and reliability.
All of these together contribute to what we have achieved in the last couple of years at Infiiloom and a testament to what we have achieved.
How did you handle the business during the pandemic induced lockdowns?
We have a simple operating culture in Infiiloom.
As a practice, we meet every day around noon for an online ‘OpsCall’ where we discuss all operations related areas – manufacturing performance, quality and deliveries. We have mastered the art of being efficient in these online meetings during this period and focused more on data. I am a great believer in data and our decisions are always data-driven rather than one’s gut feel.
A few mantras influence the work culture at Infiiloom and they helped us navigate through the pandemic as well – Discipline, Rigour and Tenacity. It was important to align everyone in the company on these operating principles while working towards the larger goal of meeting our deliveries. We continued to stay disciplined around pandemic-related interventions while ensuring rigour in driving our daily operations.
How competitive is Infiiloom?
We are not in the typical cut-and-sew business. We are in the knitting industry and knitting does a large part of constructing the garment. The labour cost component is important in our industry but other factors like scale, power cost, supply chain cost are equally important. India has the advantage of self-reliance in raw materials and their availability. Inspite of Vietnam witnessing an increase in sock knitters, lots of raw materials are imported, which makes their cost less competitive. The perception that labour cost in Vietnam is cheap is not true anymore; they may be a bit more efficient than India.
We run our business on standard minutes and with our scale of operations, we are very competitive at a global level.
What about having your own socks brand?
At this moment, efforts are towards efficiently servicing our large wholesale and retail brands – private label at select, meaningful retail, which fits into our overall manufacturing strategy.
What would be the next milestones for Infiiloom?
We are looking at the seamless knitting area, on which we shall disclose more in the coming months. We believe consumer preferences are moving towards technical fabrics, innovation and performance apparel, where seamless knitting offers a host of advantages.
What in your view should India do to boost textile and apparel business?
I think India is making huge efforts and taking forward-looking steps through the PLI scheme to incentivise the companies that are serious to build a large-scale, sustainable, internationally competitive textile business. But PLI alone would not be enough to achieve it. We require many reforms in our labour laws.
One of the challenges we face in our country is that lot of our factories and industrial sectors are splintered. We have industrial houses with multiple factory locations primarily driven by labour laws. If we wish to be competitive over a longer period of time, we must have a single location – mega factories deploying several thousand people. We have seen that in recently successful textile manufacturing countries and we need to adopt that.
Also, we as a country need to have an efficient logistics system. Be it road, rail or water transport – supply chain is critical for the success of any manufacturing business and we need to focus on driving improvements in that area too.
Lastly, we need to work towards and move faster on free trade agreements with important trade blocs and countries. I strongly believe that the current dispensation at the Centre will emphasize on this aspect while keeping the country’s interest intact.
(Infiiloom India can be reached at: +91 20 67629300 or firstname.lastname@example.org)