Global fashion brands only care about three main things when it comes to preferring a sourcing destination. These are: costs, reliability and sustainability
Bill Watson joined Coats, the world’s number one industrial thread manufacturing company in November, 2010. Prior to 2022, he served as Managing Director of the Vietnam cluster, shouldering the responsibility of managing the business in Vietnam along with the businesses in countries falling under the Vietnam cluster from 2010 to 2020 and later 2021 onwards as the Managing Director of China cluster.
In 1994, Bill came to Asia from his native place of America (the first stop was in Korea and subsequently Hong Kong, Taiwan, China & Thailand), and worked for a textile manufacturing company for more than 2 decades. Later on he shifted to Singapore and then Vietnam where he began his career at Coats.
As someone who has worked in Asia since 1994, in virtually every country in East and Southeast Asia, it was a great fit for Bill to take on the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO), Asia and a member of Group Executive Team (GET) since January 2022. He is shouldering an exciting and challenging role of ensuring quality, compliance, customer service, sustainability programs, EBIT and cash delivery in all the countries under Asia region. He leads by example of efficiency, use of multi skill, productivity, high business performance and ethical practices, people oriented leadership focusing on the development of people resources to ensure success of the business.
In a recent interview with Textile Today, Bill Watson shared Coats Bangladesh market prospect, Coats global sustainability agenda and many other crucial aspects.
Textile Today: Please share the story of Coats. What’s the current global business status of Coats?
Bill Watson: As you know, the past 3 years have been really critical for everyone. As we saw the world going into lockdowns, the consumptions dried up and the global economy contracted in general.
Coats weathered that storm very well. We prepared early and worked through 2020 to achieve pretty good results. In 2021, we witnessed some countries going into the second and third waves of COVID.
In 2021, Coats witnessed a V-shaped recovery and we have seen higher growth than 2019. We were able to do that with our great global network of operations. Meaning if a sourcing destination was in lockdown then we (Coats) moved the production from one country to another country, thereby we were able to ensure smooth service to the brands.
So, we were able to respond quickly as the brands and customers needed us. That agility was really helpful for us.
From the apparel industry’s perspective, it fully recovered from the pandemic woes with the sales booming globally. However, the Ukraine-Russia conflict has again given rise to volatility in the supply chain and an increasing inflation in the western countries. We anticipate that things will not be as smooth as in the past eight months. As we gear up to support our customers through these times wo do anticipate some challenges.
Textile Today: What’s your products’ unique selling proposition (USP) and how do you ensure a global standard of quality products?
Bill Watson: We (Coats) have global guidelines, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and use proprietary technology in color matching. This enables us not only to manufacture the exact same product in every factory around the world; but it also allows us to replicate shades digitally throughout every single dyehouse globally.
So, the technology helps us to produce and adhere to the same shade and uncompromising quality across all the units. Due to this we can ensure that the leading brands who source in different footprints can be assured that they are getting the exact same standard quality.
Textile Today: How do your products help Bangladeshi textile and apparel manufacturers to create a market for them in different segments?
Bill Watson: Coats have established ‘innovation hubs’ globally. These innovation hubs help us to develop new products. Each hub has a specific area of expertise, such as, one is responsible for developing apparel and footwear products and the other for developing performance material products. These innovation hubs take the ideas or requests from customers and then they develop the new products and give out these products to all the manufacturing units in different parts of the world to produce in bulk.
We want to innovate what the customer wants rather than just for the sake of it. These “customer-led innovations” are tremendously aiding not only the Bangladeshi textile and apparel manufacturers – rather the global apparel makers.
Textile Today: Share with us a few recently developed innovative and sustainable product ranges which you are offering for the textile, apparel and footwear industries.
Bill Watson: Coats has an extremely rigorous holistic sustainability agenda – meaning all of our global manufacturing units maintain top-notch international guidelines to implement sustainability. This is also applicable for our apparel and footwear sewing threads.
By 2024, our goal is to produce all of our premium polyester products that are 100% recycled. And by 2030, we will not use any new Petro-chemical-based material– meaning all of our man-made polyester-based products will be made from recycled products globally.
Our eco-friendly product range is a continuous process. In 2018, we launched our first recycled polyester-based product called EcoVerde – a 100% recycled premium polyester sewing thread. Then another sustainable initiative is called EcoRegen – this is made from 100% lyocell, a biodegradable fiber derived from wood pulp that is sourced from sustainably managed forests. We are also going to launch EcoCycle, a range of water dissolvable threads to facilitate the disassembling of garments. Coats EcoCycle is a ground breaking water dissolvable thread concept that helps facilitate end-of-life recycling when washed at 95°C. This product has the potential to be truly transformative in driving a circular textile economy. We are currently seeking to bring together the key industry players (e.g. brands, collectors and recyclers) to put the steps in place that are required in order for this solution to be scaled up.
These are some of our sustainability initiatives by which we can help our customers to transition into eco-friendly products.
Apart from products, we have made considerable reductions in water consumption over recent years. We also understand that we have a responsibility to reduce our contribution towards greenhouse gas emissions. We aim to progressively use renewable energy, mainly in the form of electricity.
In the future, if the companies do not fulfill these sustainability measures – consumers are going to deselect them. So, the companies that are not acting now, will not be going to be in existence in the future. This is not something we want to do, rather we must do it.
We have some specific goals we want to achieve by 2022 itself. We have also signed up with ZDHC and as I said earlier, we are on track to achieve our sustainability goals.
Textile Today: How do you see the Bangladesh market? What are the challenges and scopes do you see in the market? Do you see Bangladesh gaining more share in the global apparel market against the backdrop of the recent COVID pandemic?
Bill Watson: My observations about Bangladesh is that the country is already 51 years old. The country is now catching up with all types of development. In terms of people, there is an immense energy and hunger for progress. Secondly, with the infrastructure projects in place such as Padma Bridge inauguration is just around the corner, airport expansion, and new deep sea ports – these will guarantee more FDI in Bangladesh. Investors want assurance, labor availability and infrastructure to ensure both production and lead-time. Last but not the least, labor cost is cheaper here. These are also positives for the textile and apparel industry here.
In terms of challenges, Bangladesh seriously suffers from ease of doing business (holds 168 position in global ease of doing business index). The country needs to improve this and move into the top 100.
Government support is a must and the textile and apparel trade bodies are doing great in terms of giving a unified voice to the government about their demands.
Most importantly, Yes! Bangladesh is gaining more share in the global apparel market because global fashion brands only care about three main things when it comes to preferring a sourcing destination. First one is cost, second one is reliability or less risk involvement and the third one is sustainability. In Bangladesh, cost is really attractive, reliability is improving and risk is being reduced with more infrastructure development and increased port agility. In ensuring sustainability – the country’s RMG is a global role model.