Taiwan Business Report 2018

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Discovery Reports

Sabrina future-proofs business with stylish and innovative apparel

  • Sabrina pushes the limits of engineering and construction to fabricate high-quality pieces that are stylish and functional
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 11:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 11:00am

Country Business Reports interviews and articles by Discovery Reports

Clothing is an emblematic indicator of how humans have evolved through the years. From different varieties of vegetation and animal skins fashioned into protective wraps, to performance fabrics integrated with intricate circuitry, clothing reflects the cultural and technological sensibilities of a specific time period.

For Taiwan-based firm Sabrina Fashion Industrial, following fashion trends is not enough to make a meaningful impact in the industry, but being a step ahead of the changing clothing needs of consumers is what will set the company head and shoulders above the competition.

Founded in 1974 by Masal Chou, Sabrina specialises in performance clothing with innovative apparel at the heart of its mission.

It quickly pushed the limits of engineering and construction to fabricate high-quality pieces that are equally stylish and functional.

Today, Sabrina is among the top suppliers of cycling, training, protective base layer, tennis, golf and other sports apparel to leading global brands.

“When my father started the business, he built it from scratch, so he understood the importance of relationships,” says executive director Joyce Chou.

“He started the Sabrina culture of treating employees as family members. As the second generation, I have the responsibility to take care of our people.”

Employee loyalty is perhaps the best testament to how Sabrina takes care of its workers. One employee who just retired spent 36 years in the company.

“We see amazing transformations when we empower our employees. With education and confidence, our employees can become leaders in our factories, in our communities, and in society,” Joyce Chou says.

Maintaining good relations is not limited to its employees, and Sabrina extends this to building lasting links with key players in the industry, including fabric suppliers.

This is especially crucial since Sabrina sources 80 per cent of its fabrics locally. The connection with suppliers also helps Sabrina gain access to the latest fabrics, which in turn help keep the company moving forward. Sabrina also places a premium on relationships with clients.

It established Design Lab where it renders end-to-end services. The company gained a strong client base because it offers full collaboration from ideation and pattern making to sample making and production.

“Designers can sometimes go wild in their concepts and it can lead to overpriced products that do not make sense from a corporate perspective. We help our clients find a balance – making beautiful and functional products that are economically priced,” Joyce Chou says.

Past meets the future

Taking these nuggets of wisdom from her father, the visionary executive director continued to build the Sabrina name to the empire it is today. From being a US$60 million company 15 years ago, Sabrina has grown into a US$250 million industry giant last year. The company aims to double the size of the business by 2020.

Aside from its highly competent talent pool, the keys to Sabrina’s rapid growth are future-proofing and diversification. To continue to stay relevant in the competitive apparel business, Sabrina continuously invests in training and upgrading its machinery.

“In ensuring that our employees are capable of handling the stringent demands of a constantly evolving supply chain, we guarantee that our operational capabilities provide speed, flexibility and value,” Joyce Chou says.

Sabrina also embarks on many research and development (R&D) initiatives, and even maintains a 55-strong dedicated team in its R&D centres in Taiwan and mainland China. The company is looking to increase this number by 20 per cent to help support the multinational nature of its operations and the exploration of more product development areas.

“We turn client concepts into reality. We offer suggestions on fabric selection, the latest fashion trends and even the most advanced production technology,” Joyce Chou says.

“Tackling problems is not an issue here, and our response time to solving problems together with clients is relatively fast. Within the industry, we are very well known for our ability to translate, from design to production.”

Diversifying for the future

With the popularity of yoga and the advent of CrossFit, Pilates and many others, people have a wider selection of fitness and sports regimens than ever before, and one type of active wear is not going to work for each and every activity. This fuels Sabrina’s drive to develop apparel to meet a variety of needs.

Aside from using performance fabric, Sabrina is incorporating new materials such as lace and mesh into its products as fashion brands such as Zara, Gap and Uniqlo venture to casual athletic styles, or “athleisure”.

Sabrina even invested in Shokay, the world’s first socially responsible premium yak down provider.

“The first thing that caught my eye is that Shokay is a social enterprise. I was touched by the founder Carol Chyau’s story and her commitment to catalyse change, and I wanted to do the same,” Joyce Chou says.

Before Chyau established Shokay, people used yak down for carpets, which did not generate big profits. Studying the properties of yak down, Chyau discovered that the material is 30 per cent warmer than wool and 130 per cent more breathable than cashmere. Because of these properties, yak down is ideal for scarves, jumpers, and gloves, among others.

With its stake in Shokay, Sabrina is able to incorporate yak down in sportswear. The company is aiming to launch yak down-based fabric in China and the United States next year, and Sabrina hopes that it will be the next big thing in fabrics.

Another crucial investment for Sabrina is one that takes the company into the field of smart clothing, or wearable technology. The company invested in algorithm company bOMDIC to learn about the GoMore stamina sensor technology.

In cooperation with clients, Sabrina aims to create wearable objects using different materials and methods.

One of the company’s applications of this technology is a garment that can monitor vital signs – an important function that can be used in military wear and medical and elderly care. Aside from logging in vital signs, the device also has an alarm function that activates when there is a particular need for medical attention.

Sabrina is already working with a Guangzhou-based company that wants to use the garment in an elder village it is planning to build.

Still in line with wearable technology, Sabrina has spiced up the gaming world by delving into augmented and virtual reality. With the help of start-up partner, wearable technology firm Machina, Sabrina has integrated augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tech into fabrics, enabling them to function as game controllers.

“We are very good in performance sportswear, outerwear and some leisure wear,” says managing director David Tang. “By expanding into new technologies, we hope to attract young talents to join us. We need their fresh outlook to combine with our time-tested expertise to deliver cutting-edge products. The younger generation is our future and they will be able to create the new culture for this company.”

Global sustainable enterprise

Sabrina has established a network of operations that spans five countries. Headquartered in Taiwan, the company has also established manufacturing facilities in mainland China, Cambodia and Myanmar. In its factories, Sabrina strives to be as eco-friendly as possible, integrating solar-powered technologies in its systems and establishing in-house waste water management facilities.

As a forward-thinking company, Sabrina ventured outside Taiwan relatively early on and established a factory in mainland China in 1991. When Masal Chou went to the mainland, he built a green factory that is still recognised today as among the most modern factories in Jiangsu.

Following China, Sabrina established two factories in Cambodia. With 6,000 employees working in the Kampong Speu province facility, and another 4,000 in the Phnom Penh facility, dubbed Top Summit, Cambodia is Sabrina’s biggest operation site to date. Sabrina operates printing mills in Cambodia, and this is where it applies AR and VR capabilities to its garments.

Myanmar is also an important location for Sabrina. Although Myanmar is not as big a market yet compared with China, Sabrina invested in Nayang, a company that specialises in lace and embroidery, to help with its diversification strategy. The company tailors wedding gowns for Calvin Klein, Christian Dior and other designers, and Sabrina is hoping to learn from the company to be able to incorporate these new materials in its athletic wear.

“We want to be the leader in innovative apparel,” Joyce Chou says. “We want to keep Sabrina in a premium position that helps brands, because if the brand’s business is good, then that will benefit us too. We want to keep investing in talent and empowering team members.”

In keeping with its commitment to care for its employees and their communities, Sabrina has launched nutrition programmes in its China and Cambodia facilities. The company provides free lunches and introduces nutrition concepts to help keep its employees healthy. Since launching the nutrition programme in Cambodia, the year-on-year anaemia rate among the workers has dropped.

Sabrina also works with non-government organisations to conduct nutrition, health and hygiene programmes for schoolchildren in the hope of improving the overall wellness of the youth. A literacy programme is also Sabrina’s way of contributing to illiteracy reduction and sustainable development.