KatBro Corporation Private Limited (KBCL) is one of the few Indian flat knit apparel manufacturers. The company is among the first to move into fine flat knits, and to make flat knit summerwear. In an exclusive interview with Reena Mital, C. B. Kataria, Founder and Director, KBCL, talks about the company’s achievements and the bright future of apparel retailing in India.
KBCL is one of the very few Indian knitwear companies that is into flat knitting. What made you opt for this, and other high tech machines?
We choose to be in flat knits, mainly due to two reasons. We have the technical knowledge and know-how of flat knits; and secondly, and importantly, competition in this segment is scarce. People usually do not prefer to enter into flat knits due to lack of technical expertise and the high investments needed compared to circular knitting.
In flat knitting, a manufacturer has to have most of the operations and processes in-house, very few operations can be outsourced. This is not the case in circular knitting.
Within flat knits too, we chose to be in the high value, differentiated segment. We chose fine gauge (GG) in flat knits (14, 16, 18 GG). We are the first manufacturers of such apparel in India, and the product itself is very new to this market. We have thus set the bar quite high for the competition, and developed a whole new category. In the Indian market, flat knits are usually considered for winterwear, but we have managed to break the glass ceiling and are making the finest quality flat knit apparel, which are comfortable and luxurious, and very much suitable for summerwear. These products are way better than what can be achieved in circular knitting.
You have increased your production capacity recently?
Yes we have increased our capacity from 12 to 50 machines now. We have installed 14, 12, 10, 7 GG machines. We can now offer our customers complete flat knit range from 7 to 18 GG products. Apart from this, we are doing embroidery and hand embellishment products as well.
Is skilled labour an issue for you as you have high tech production facilities?
Yes. It is not easy to find the required skillsets in the existing pool of workers, for the differentiated product category that we are into. We have to manage with semi-skilled workers. We train the workers for a month or so, before they start working at the production site.
What does sustainability mean for you? What are the environment certifications that you have opted for?
Being sustainable is the need of the hour. Most of the brands are moving towards sustainable clothing, and we have on offer a full range of clothing made from recycled yarns made out of fabric waste cuttings, organic yarns, natural dyed yarns.
KBCL is also a member of Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Global Recycled Standard (GRS).
Now more than ever, athleisure is in great demand. How does this trend help KBCL? How long do you think this trend will continue?
Due to the lockdown, people have to work from home, they prefer to wear comfortable clothes, and enter athleisure. This trend is going nowhere until people start going back to offices. Flat knits are best suited for athleisure, and we are expecting good enquiries for the coming seasons.
What is your focus on R&D, given the increasing demand for performance apparel?
R&D is the soul of any business. And we have always focused on being innovative, different. Performance apparel is a growing trend that is here to stay. We have developed a few new blends like Recotherm, which is recycled hollow fibre from Reliance with better thermal properties. This fibre is being used in melanges to blend with cotton. We use many such yarns to enhance the performance of the end product, such as Clima cotton, Coolmax, anti-odour yarns. These performance yarns are combined with beautiful styling and design which makes the ultimate apparel.
Are you in the domestic market, or also in the export markets?
Currently we are catering to the domestic market. We had planned to move into exports in 2020, but we had to put that on hold due to the pandemic. For KatBro, there is no different between the domestic and export markets, in terms of our offerings. The main focus is to cater to brands that are financially stable, forward-looking brands, brands that believe in sustainability.
Your views on the Indian retail market?
We are hopeful that the apparel retail markets will pick up in the next AW 21 and SS 22 seasons. With vaccination in place, we expect people and businesses will start recovering in terms of finance and huge demand in apparel retail can be expected.
Why, according to you, has the industry, in general, been reluctant to move up the value chain?
That’s not entirely true. Today, companies are working in collaboration with value chain partners, to move up the ladder. We too have many associates. I believe the industry will move in this direction soon.