An ambitious Thai garment manufacturer and exporter plans to transform itself into a fashion company through the creation of a new fashion label and recruitment of top designers.

Apparel Avenue Co said it intends to become a fashion firm by 2006 by emphasising "Original Design Manufacturing" (ODM) instead of "Original Equipment Manufacturing" (OEM).

The company told The Nation newspaper it plans to have three experienced fashion designers by the end of 2002 and at least eight by 2006. It currently has only one.

Company president, Kartchai Jamkajornkeiat, said: "We want to use our own brand names to penetrate both the local and particularly the Asean market by taking advantage of tariff reductions under the Asean Free Trade Area.

"We expect that the ODM plan will not only remake the company's image but also its business credibility by offering buyers more choices. We anticipate that customers will increase their orders by at least 20 per cent as a sign that they are satisfied with our design service.

"We gain only small value from focusing on OEM, but manufacturers will enjoy a significant increase in value from ODM."

Apparel Avenue employs around 500 people and its main export markets include the US, the EU and Japan.