Asif Manzoor Sheikh, the area manager Lahore for YKK Singapore started his career in 1993 from Nova International. He has worked in various top notch organizations like AMC (now called Target Corporation), Bugle Boy, Colby International and Matrix in the interim before starting a new Chapter in his career in 2001 that of managing the Lahore branch at YKK Singapore.
His current area of responsibility offers him diverse challenges everyday, “this job is clearly different in its scope and responsibility from my earlier work – My quality and merchandise experience obviously helps in providing insights into handling zippers as a product however I have to face different challenges every day, with the upside being an added exposure in handling an office independently,” he says.
Talking about YKK, the company, Asif confides, “YKK is a global brand. Contrary to popular misconception, it’s not an American but a Japanese company. YKK stands for the initials of its founding father. Our product lines are suitable for all sectors of textiles and apparel industry – knitwear, woven apparel, leather items like motor clothes, shoes and bags, even for home textiles, we have a high demand for zippers for bed linen items too, like pillow cases for example. YKK product lines include zippers, snaps, Velcro tapes and buttons. YKK is a global supplier with offices in 60 countries. YKK is synonym for a quality product,” he asserts.
Discussing different management styles he’s been exposed to during the course of his career, Asif says, “US versus Chinese versus Japanese management style, there are not many substantial differences. The only difference I see is in the approach. Japanese management requires more specialized attitude, requiring accuracy and a high level of organization in each aspect of work, age and experience counts with them more, whereas in USA, age and experience is not a factor. They also take more time in planning and weighing decisions, Americans on the other hand are more spontaneous and make quick decisions.”
Merchandising apparel and marketing zippers is a different field in his opinion, “both are different sectors of the apparel industry, right now, I am marketing components of a garment, not the garment itself. It was comparatively easy to penetrate the local market, getting a substantial market share for our products; it was tougher to convince factories to use original YKK zippers versus counterfeits. Ours is a durable product, the garment it’s attached to may waste away but our zippers endure well beyond the life of the garment. Lahore, Sialkot and Faisalabad are different markets,” he continues. “Lahore is more professional and decentralized; Sialkot is mostly one window operation, with the CEO handling all major decisions, though they are more business oriented. Faisalabad is similar to Sialkot, though, they are more laid back and casual in their business approach, they don’t take things seriously.”
Commenting on the recent rise and fall of apparel industry in Pakistan, Asif is fairly hopeful. “After the “nine eleven” incident, the market situation was pretty hopeless. Pakistan lost many orders. YKK had only started its operations two months prior to this incident in Lahore. Vendors were able to overcome this situation fairly quickly by taking drastic action. Prices were reduced and vendor visits to Europe and America were increased to regain buyers’ confidence in Pakistan and its manufacturing capability. In 2002-03, business had started coming back in. 2004 was a promising year as far as garment industry is concerned. Many vendors increased capacity in anticipation of 2005 and adjusted their position to take maximum advantage by diversifying their operations. Many vendors are getting attracted to woven apparel for example. Karachi business has increased in this sector since they already have fabric finishing capabilities in place – different wash techniques like sand blasting and stone washing are done very successfully over there. Knitwear growth on the other hand has been slow allover Pakistan. Despite encouraging forecasts, Pakistan only got one fourth of the business in bulk. Fall season skipped by entirely. I think the buyers are experimenting right now by placing the bulk of their orders in China and India. Our vendors on the other hand were pretty overconfident and thought the business would come automatically to them without any input on their part. So couple of seasons went by without them taking any action. Spring 2006 has been better in terms of orders, the situation is steadily improving. Things are now running, though bulk capacity is still not fully utilized. 2006 should be a decisive year in the sense that we as a market will know in which direction to pitch our efforts.” “I must commend Sialkot’s flexibility as a market though,” he continues in the same vein. “They used to be known as a fashion leather jacket market but when the fashion changed, they quickly adapted to the change too. (Orders started fading out for leather Jackets so they started making Leather Motorbike suits), when the market went down for knit sports clothes, (e.g. Belos Clothing) converted to making denim jeans. They have skilled labor in place, they can easily diversify. They are very flexible and don’t limit themselves and luckily for them, they manage the production well and do a good overall job.”
Commenting from his global perspective at YKK and his local knowledge, Asif thinks China is a clear market leader in textiles, “China is the best volume-wise (overall in knitwear and woven apparel), with India coming a close second. Bangladesh gets rebate, is duty free and now quota free also. From YKK’s point of view, Bangladesh is growing in the woven sector while India is getting stronger in knitwear. In my opinion, our local industry should be more flexible, cut overheads, and reduce price points. They should react to the current market situation by trimming their margins, it’s no longer an era of $ 6.00 plus garment. Improvement is required in the communication area, especially, between technicians and their supervisors. Better training, more checks and balances and better communication would eliminate most of the day to day issues encountered in production. Besides, the supervisors do not personally check the line inspectors. There is no accountability. Most production managers don’t meet their people, only conduct high level meetings (with other managers). You do not require daily meetings at the upper levels of management. In fact, you need labor and production manager meetings on a daily basis instead.” In conclusion, Asif is optimistic. “Orders will come back in 2006. The vendors need to realize and rectify the market weaknesses to improve the situation,” he says