Denim manufacturing giant Saitex says it plans to open its new automated facility in Los Angeles and a mill in Vietnam by the end of the year, despite the disruption the coronavirus (Covid-19) has caused the industry.

Speaking on a webinar for the Kingpins24 virtual event yesterday (22 April), CEO Sanjeev Bahl said the US manufacturing facility should have opened a few months ago but delays due to additional changes mean the opening is now scheduled for the end of the third quarter or the beginning of the fourth depending on when the lockdown is lifted.

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“The human race is a very resilient race,” Bahl says. “We’ve gone through wars, we’ve gone through pandemics, we’ve gone through all sorts of destructions; climate change, fires, financial systems crashing. What we’ve learnt is that opportunity is equal to need plus capability. This is a time where you build that model into the future. If you’re afraid you just stay in the present and the present is nothing but a mirror that you are staring into for the past.”

Bahl says the future for Saitex, which produces for the likes of G-Star Raw, J Crew and Everlane, is to be vertical and digital, while being “responsive to our supply chain, and extremely realistic and clean with our approach”.

“We are not stopping our plans. We are just waiting for Los Angeles to settle down a little bit. Once it settles down we are on our way.”

The company produces around 6m garments per year across its four facilities in Vietnam. Saitex says it is the only large scale denim manufacturer in the world, and the only apparel manufacturer in Asia, to carry the B Corp designation for meeting high standards of social and environmental impact.

Its latest facility in Los Angeles will be equipped with latest technology to address speed, quality, agility and price.

“The factory in Los Angeles is very exciting. It’s everything we’ve incubated in terms of technology, robotics, AI, digital assets. They are all being deployed, so it should be the factory of the future, in line with Industry 4.0. It’ll be interesting to see how effective it could be as an experiment, and I hope that experiment works because if it does, we have the opportunity to bring manufacturing back with a force in small micro stages across the US and elsewhere on the planet.”

Construction also continues on the Vietnam mill, which it hopes to open in the fourth quarter also.

“Hopefully, as we’ve been recognised and considered as the cleanest denim manufacturing plant on the planet…this will check the boxes on social responsibility, environmental responsibility, and fiscal responsibility. This would be an amazing model, which the world would have the opportunity to granulate and follow so that the mills of the future would not look like what they look like today.”

Bahl says the investment in the two facilities has been “huge” but they will offer speed-to-market, flexibility, transparency, and verification of materials, including information such as the amount of CO2 emissions used, whether its carbon neutral, and how much water was used in making the item.

“The consumer needs to be told the truth and the truth is, it’s all the components from field to shelf. It’s saying this has been made in a very responsible way from the beginning to the end. The investments are critical to disrupt the old and to build the future digital path, so yes we continue with that as well as some online initiatives on customisation and predictive manufacturing models in the digital space.

“We are staying on plan and it’s pretty ambitious but hopefully we’ll cross the finish line and be ready for the future and I think 2020 is the reset year – it means we reset everything and don’t walk away from the future; reset everything we have and just get ready for 2021.”