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The Duke's T-party
July 26, 2003
Komal Jain has just received the prestigious Udyog Patra award from the Institute of Trade & Industrial Development, but you'd never know it from his humble manner.
The chairman of the Rs 150-crore (Rs 1.5-billion) Duke Group is soft-spoken and self-effacing and doesn't have the affectations of some self-made tycoons. He started as a trader in Ludhiana in the 1960s with an investment of Rs 50,000.
Today, with a production base of over 1.2 million T-shirts per annum for the domestic market, Duke is the largest-selling T-shirt brand in India.
The company has outlets all over the country and is also into exports. My family was originally from Ambala. My father was a simple man who had a variety of small businesses, such as jewellery.
However, he was too trusting for his own good and incurred many losses because of the guile of some of his associates. I was the eldest child so a lot of responsibility fell on my shoulders.
In 1962, at the age of 15, I completed my 10th class and went to Ludhiana to get training in the hosiery business from some relatives who had a factory there.
I also spent some time with relatives in Kolkata. In 1966 my father passed away and the whole family moved to Ludhiana. With an investment of just Rs 50,000 or so, I opened a small shop.
Initially we were only into trading -- mufflers, vests and the like -- but after three years we got into the business of manufacturing as well.
We called ourselves D K Knitwears. In 1977 we started manufacturing shirts under the 'Duke' label. To start with we worked with knitted textiles in blended fabrics but soon many others in Ludhiana started imitating us, making inferior products that diluted the quality of the market.
In 1980 we began making T-shirts, which at that stage were hardly available in India. As demand rapidly increased, we started getting more machines and began an expansion process, first in north India and then all over the country.
We targeted the middle class and kept our focus on quality and providing value for money.
We also did plenty of research on how fabrics can best be blended to suit Indian climatic conditions -- remember, there wasn't much data available on this since the T-shirt market was nascent.
Since our aim is to ensure total control over the quality of our products, Duke does all its own knitting, dyeing, finishing, compacting, garment printing and embroidery, all of which is done on imported machines.
Stringent quality-checking tests are carried out in-house. Over the years, T-shirts have changed a lot. New fabrics have been developed, consumers are more fashion-conscious and bright colours are the rage.
Despite our modest beginnings, we can proudly claim to have kept pace with all these trends. We now have 2,500 dealers all over India. Four years ago ORG-MARG declared us "India's No. 1 selling T-shirt brand". Duke is also the first T-shirt company and one of the very few garment-manufacturing units in India to have received ISO-9001 certification.
After establishing ourselves, diversification was the obvious next step. Three years ago we launched a range of quilts, thermals and underwear under the 'Neva' label, which pioneered the concept of thermal innerwear in the country.
And last year, for the first time, we got into winter clothes as well, with the launch of zipper jackets. We have also set up a unit in Nepal, from where shirts are exported.
Our turnover from the domestic market was Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) last fiscal and we are targeting Rs 30 crore (Rs 300 million) in the next. Exports added another Rs 65 crore (Rs 650 billion) to our turnover.
The business is completely family-oriented. Neva is managed by one of my brothers while another handles exports.
Now my son is set to take over the reins of the business; he's just returned after completing his MBA in London. Clearly, we've come a long way from our humble origins. As told to Jai Arjun Singh