JUST ON THE MARK

Jordan 2019 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

Working in tandem with the government to establish productive, skill-building factories for underemployed youth across the country, Classic Fashion is driving the country's modernization efforts.

Sanal Kumar
BIOGRAPHY
Sanal Kumar started Classic Fashion Apparel Industry Ltd. Co. in Jordan in 2003 with just 300 employees, 130 machines, and an output valued at USD2 million. Now, in 2017, after a decade and a half of consistent growth, the firm employs 24,000 people and operates over 12,000 machines to produce 66.2 million garments with an annual turnover of USD458 million in 2017, contributing to 26.5% of the income from Jordan’s total garment exports. After beginning his career in the revenue department of the Bombay International Airport, he moved to Dubai in 1990, Oman in 1993, and Abu Dhabi in 1999, before finally settling in Jordan in 2000.

How did you decide to establish Classic Fashion in Jordan?

A chartered accountant by training, I have been in the apparel manufacturing industry since 1991. After having held leadership positions with other apparel making conglomerates in the Middle East, I decided to set up my own company. Jordan was and remains a natural choice—I have such high regard and appreciation for this wonderful nation. With the USD500,000 that I had saved up to that point, I established Classic Fashion, albeit in a small way, with a workforce of 300 and an annual turnover of USD2 million. My relationship with customers (the brands and retailers that buy our garments), machinery suppliers, and raw material suppliers worked well. They had found a reliable partner in me and thus began a wonderful association that remains intact even to this day. My clients have stood with me through thick and thin, and I have strived to retain my position as a strategic vendor to them. And here we are today in 2019, providing employment opportunities for over 24,000 people, a half-billion-dollar business, and leading various industry-initiatives crucial for the growth of the entire apparel industry in Jordan. Classic Fashion has been reinvesting its profits into the business, mainly on infrastructure, new machinery, high-class accommodations for our migrant employees, skill development programs for our employees, and large warehouses, all of which are essential for sustained growth of the business.

How has the satellite model pioneered in conjunction with the Kingdom helped your growth?

Satellite factories are established in rural pockets mainly to create employment opportunities for Jordanian youth. We were amongst the first to set up such a unit in 2013. Today, we have six operational units under this scheme and a seventh coming online later in 2019. It is actually a quid-pro-quo arrangement; we create job opportunities for Jordanian youth, and government facilitates our access to a highly-skilled migrant workforce in our main factories. We have provided skills development training and employment to at least 3,500 Jordanians from the local community in the remotest areas. We at Classic Fashion understand that satellite factories will play a key role in the future of the apparel industry, which is why we are putting in a lot of efforts and resources to get them up to speed. And this is no easy process: it takes us at least three-four years to even achieve breakeven at these factories.

What more needs to be done to progress this industry further?

The apparel industry in Jordan could well be scaled up to a USD10-billion business, employing 200,000-300,000 Jordanian youth in the next few years, provided there are concerted efforts at the macro level to create a strategic vision for the industry with short, medium, and long-term goals. This entails pursuing policies that encourage investors to increase funding into the industry and tax structures that incentivize skill development and job creation to help our industries remain competitive despite the rising cost of raw materials and labor. It also means insulating the apparel industry from unplanned statutory burdens and establishing a fashion design school where Jordanian youth can learn the trade. We have a very clear vision to be a USD1-billion company by 2024, and we are working on raising funds to support our infrastructure. To achieve that target, we have set up our own textile mill in Jordan that will use hi-tech machinery to produce fabric in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner.