THE best-known Malay term in the world today is probably orang utan, that loveable primate from Sabah and Sarawak, which, as Wira, was the official mascot of the XVI Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Soon the world will become familiar with another: warna (colour). Or, to be more precise, eWarna, the Malaysian colour management specialist that's already on the lips of colour managers with apparel buyers and merchandisers worldwide.
“Yes, we already have critical mass of the minds,” eWarna.com Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Richard Lawn told StarBiz in an interview. “In our little niche, we already have very good branding today.”
However, reaching user critical mass would take another two to three years, he reckoned.
Its clientele list today comprises mainly textile and apparel manufacturers across the globe, as well as Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the US retailing giant. And, between the textile and apparel manufacturers and retailers are millions of suppliers, both large and small.
eWarna is looking to these suppliers to give it user critical mass.
Lawn explains, using the brassiere as an example: “A bra can have 15 to 25 different components, including metal fasteners from a factory in Egypt; plastic guides from Taiwan; trim, including ribbon bows from Thailand; thread from Malaysia; and various kinds of fabric such as stretch fabric from Japan.
“Now, all these have to be colour matched perfectly. The human eye can detect slight differences in colour. If the colours of the various components are not perfectly matched, the customer will conclude that it is a cheap product and will not buy it.”
The traditional way is via shade charts and sending physical samples of the component to the manufacturer for approval, a process that can take months, before the supplier list is finalised.
And with colour exhibiting differing characteristics under different lighting conditions, or when applied to different materials – paper, metal, textiles or plastic, for example – it can be a nightmare getting everything just right. And time-consuming, too.
This is where eWarna believes it can give the apparel and textile industries, and for that matter, any industry that uses dyes, paints and inks, an efficient and time-saving solution.
Its Internet-based solutions enable manufacturers and suppliers to collaborate in real time in a virtual environment with precision, all the while reducing time to market.
“Colour is in the mind. You cannot measure colour, but you can measure the reflective properties of colour. This data is stored in a central server which is accessible to users worldwide,” said Lawn.
eWarna wants to be the global clearing house for colours, a platform for manufacturers and suppliers to meet and collaborate. It can be as simple as a manufacturer posting on eWarna's website the colour properties it needs for an upcoming product so that suppliers have something precise to work on.
Or it can be as complex as searching for the exact colour needed for a restoration project.
Another possible business proposition Lawn sees is connecting a desperate buyer with a supplier of last resort.
“Say, an apparel contract manufacturer lost 200 metres of lining material through a mishap,” said Lawn.
“An entire shipment is being held back because of that. He can go back to the original supplier and order more material.
“But if it were a single-run production and most fabrics are ... it will be a different colour next season or year. The manufacturer won't give you just 200 metres; it will more likely be a minimum 2,000 metres. And you won't get it immediately; more like two months later. And you have a deadline to meet.
“Somewhere out there in the world, there will be a dozen of people who will have the exact material, or a close match, that the manufacturer needs. Ordinarily the two will never meet, but now the manufacturer has the option to post his requirement on our website.
“The manufacturer may have to pay a premium for the 200 metres, but it is a better option than waiting for a replacement shipment, or having to default on the contract,” he added.
Asked if the theoretical dozen had no knowledge of eWarna, Lawn said that was why the company was seeking to partner with global technology majors such as IBM and SAP, and even eBay, to widen its reach.
But getting to user critical mass is easier said than done, Lawn conceded. “Of all the people I've talked to, nobody says they are not going to use us. The problem is getting them to use us now. We'll consider you the next season or next year, they say.
“Fashion is a very fast-paced industry. The buyers at fashion houses already have their hands full trying to ensure that the required materials already ordered from all over the world are available tomorrow. They don't have time to think about what to do next year,” he said.
In addition, switching to eWarna's platform will also mean they would have to change the way they conduct their business. As every change agent knows, the mindset shift is the hardest part of a business makeover.
“Getting to meet with the buyers is also very difficult,” lamented Lawn, who travels the world most of the year selling eWarna.
Fortunately, there are push factors involved. He recalled being approached by someone at an industry conference in the US and being told: “My supplier says I need to have your software. Tell me what it does.”
eWarna has done very well so far in building its brand just through word of mouth alone. The time has now come for a concerted campaign for people worldwide to think eWarna when they speak of colour.
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