With a goal of combining simplicity, affordability and efficiency in manufacturing RMG products, Asif Ashraf, Managing Director of Urmi Group, joined the family business in 1990 after completing MBA from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Dhaka University. With his visionary approach to ensure exponential growth of his company, he played a pivotal role in transforming Urmi from a traditional family business to a corporate group. By taking pragmatic steps he took Urmi group ahead of its time in the industry.
Please give us a brief account of your journey so far.
Our’s is a family business started back in 1986/87 with 50 sewing machines, currently we have above 3000 machines producing 160000 pcs of garments & 30 tons of fabric everyday. Our specialty is in producing fabrics made out of man-made fiber. We are capable of producing UV-Protect, water repellent antibacterial & antiviral fabrics. Bangladesh exports only 12% of its non-cotton apparels from fabric produced in Bangladesh. We feel proud to be a pioneer in this field. Our customers include Puma, Marks & Spencer, Decathlon and Uniqlo and export to different countries of Europe, Asia, Australia and the USA.
You have been at the helm of Urmi Group since 2000. In that period, what were your biggest challenges in achieving company goals?
The biggest challenge is to get people with the right kind of mindset. Although we have abundant of human resources but it is challenging to find right people for the right place. The perception of Bangladesh among the customers are still not convincing is another challenge.
What were the innovative steps taken by Urmi Group that helped the daily operations run smoothly during covid19?
The entire period of COVID-19 is a new learning experience for all of us. In this period, we have made extensive virtual meetings through Zoom & Microsoft Team. We are still holding our weekly, monthly & town hall meetings through the virtual platforms. One of the finest achievements was to replace the physical sample fitting exercises by 3D visualization software. Normally we need to send the sample garments to customer for fit approval, but during this pandemic we got the production approval by using the 3D sampling software. This practice has saved time and money for both of us.
In the post-pandemic world, what is your vision for Urmi Group? How do you plan to keep it sustainable?
Definitely, the outbreak of this pandemic reconfigured our plans. I do believe that we have seen the bottom of it thus far. For now, we’re focusing on sustaining our growth amid the pandemic and restoring our operations as it was before the outbreak. Part of the process, due to global demand, we are currently in the production of PPEs and face masks. Overall it would take some time to fully get a hold of current situations and a couple more years still to go back to things as they were.
Can you please tell us about the new product of Urmi Group, the much-awaited Turaag Protex?
Wearing mask is the only weapon available with us until the pandemic is over. WHO and CDC guidelines have repeatedly been telling us to wash our hands and wearing masks to cover our faces. Keeping this in mind, it is our first venture into the domestic market. We have introduced Turaag Protex, washable antiviral fabric mask. This mask has three layers of fabric. The outer layer is water repellent; this stops water particles and air droplets from passing through the mask. The middle layer is antiviral coated with Swiss HeiQ Viroblock that effectively deactivates any virus that may have gained entry & the inner layer is of an absorbable fabric, keeping the comfort of its wearer in mind. Our masks also have an adjustable head strap for different facial shapes and a nose clip and chin bridge for a tighter hold.
How affordable will it be for the general public?
Per piece of “Turaag Protex” costs 180 taka, this is not at all expensive as it is washable & reusable up to 25 times. We know, standard surgical masks are for one-time use & a hassle to change when one is outside home. In comparison to that our fabric face mask provides all day long protection. The “Right” quality surgical mask cost 9/10 taka, proper N95 & KN95 costs hundreds of taka for single use, where as ours is only 7 taka without the risk of wearing the counterfeit one. I would say, for anyone who values the protection quality, we are very much affordable.
How do you maintain hygiene of the mask after getting out of your facility?
“Turaag Protex” comes in a transparent polybag. This is to make sure that the vendor is not touching any part of the mask during the sale and contaminating it in the process even before it is worn. Since the bag is transparent, a customer can also check out the colour of the mask and choose a preferred one from our range.
What is your view on people getting relaxed gradually and stopping the usage of masks?
This is simply suicidal, especially when a second outbreak might be looming right around the corner. I believe, people should not be afraid of the coronavirus, but they must be cautious. They must exercise this caution, and they must wash their hands, wear masks and limit physical interactions as much as possible.
What can you or your organization do to encourage people to use masks regularly?
We are putting stickers in shops for encouraging common people to wear masks always. Our goal is to make wearing mask a habit during this pandemic.
What intervention should the government take to encourage people?
The government can promote safer guidelines for mask maintenance. Because it is seen, though people wearing masks contaminates it being ignorant of it.
Can you discuss the differentiating factors of fabric and surgical masks? In other words, why choose fabric masks?
N95 or surgical masks are meant for medical practitioners and health care service providers. Moreover, one-time masks have to be disposed of carefully. It adds to unnecessary waste to our surroundings since we’re continually wearing one each day. Fabric masks, on the other hand, are completely a different product. Fabric mask defiantly gets contaminated but as it is reusable for maximum of 25 times, it a better option to go for. It is also far more comfortable, and our product guarantees protection.
In your words, what are the essential qualities an MD requires to run a group of companies?
I want to call myself a manager rather than an MD. A person leading the organization needs to be visionary, hardworking & open minded. The success will depend on his ability to form a good team of planners, executers & flag raisers.
A man of your stature, with such an extensive career, what do you plan on doing next?
To be fair, I do not have an extensive career rather a decent one, God’s grace. My focus is to target opportunities which results in profits that facilitate me adequate living and add value to my organization and country. Bangladesh may be the second-largest exporter of garments, but the gap between the first and the second ranks is immense. So, I’ve always tried to accept or aim for orders that haven’t been executed in Bangladesh before and try to reduce that gap, to whatever extent I can.
Any closing statements?
Wear mask, wash hands and fight COVID.