This textile company from Karur, Tamil Nadu, with 80% women workers, has been working on transforming the lives of women.
A-Tex was set up in the 1960s in the textile town of Karur, Tamil Nadu. Specializing in home textile products such as Fabrics, beddings and pillow covers, the firm catered to the domestic market. As hand embroidery was popular at that time, women especially in north India used the company’s fabrics for embroidery.
Prithvi, the MD of the company, is a third-generation entrepreneur who joined the company in 1996. However, the times changed, and the embroidery market started declining. The decision was made to cater to new markets and so an export unit was set up in 2002. It started in the existing factory with only ten employees and the first year they did a turnover of 30 lakhs. In 2021, the company did a turnover of INR 42 crore.
Product Specialization and Market:
The USP of the company is home products, wellness products and packaging solutions. The product mix comprises 10% home textiles, 10% wellness textiles and 80% products packaging solutions.
The product range included bed linen, kitchen linen, table linen, cushions cover, curtains, cotton packaging for luxury goods such as shoe covers, garment covers, pouches, shopping bags, tote bags, promotional bags and pouches, envelopes, chocolate pouches, bags, and covers for leather accessories & cosmetics. The company is a supplier to several leading brands in Europe, the USA, and Asia. The home collection products and the reusable packaging are in cotton, linen, jute, and rPET fibers.
A unique product that A-Tex specializes in is Wellness Textiles. Wellness textiles are made of cotton fabrics with a pouch to hold organic wheat grains within. These fabrics are worn over joints to keep them warm. The wellness textiles are mostly catered to in the Scandinavian countries.
A-Tex sells to importers, distributors, retailers, and supermarkets predominantly in the European market including the Scandinavian countries. They also cater predominantly to packaging solution providers of international brands.
Wellness for Employees
As amongst the 1150 employees, 80% are women, the management wanted to work on the well-being of the women. A-Tex decided to partner with Swasti, a Bengaluru based NGO for their I4 WELLNESS program. Through this initiative, the basic health parameters of all employees are monitored. They are given training and awareness programs for basic life skills, hygiene, cancer prevention, physio training etc. Qualified healthcare professionals monitor the health and well-being of the workers. It is also important to mention that most of the employees are local.
Extensive training programs, not only for life skills but also for managing finances are provided to women. Even in the top management, there are 50% women, which demonstrates that the training and exposure are working well.
“One of the intriguing areas for us is that women do have a lot of caring and nurturing responsibility at home, whether it is for children or older people, and that may lead to them taking off” Prithvi in a calm demeanour mentioned factoring in a 15-20% absenteeism, so additional manpower manages the work seamlessly.
This has gone a long way in employee retention as employees are valued. Employees serving for 13-14 years is a norm. While parental leave and creche is a statutory requirement, that there are about 20 children at the facility demonstrates that the creche facility is utilized and it works for the employees.
Ms Vinotha, who is compliance manager, started working with A-Tex, as a documentation-in-charge with the company. It is important to mention that Ms Vinotha started her work life as a home-based tailor.
What really ticks well at A-Tex, as per Vinotha is that the management’s approach is to hear out the employees and be always approachable. She also emphasizes the importance of a good induction program and promoting a family-like atmosphere at the company. While ESI helps support the medical expenses when someone is unwell, the best approach is to prevent illness.
Swasti’s work is around awareness and training programs for its employees. Every year Swasti team decides on about 10 topics that are made into videos, train the trainers so that every employee gets to know them. The training around time management and health, sanitation have had far-reaching impacts, such as in employees’ homes as well.
One of the prominent health issues seen with women employees was that of anemia. Being aware of the issue and making small changes in the lifestyle based on the awareness sessions with the support team helped the women employees reverse their health conditions. The women employees have seen a steady improvement in their health and feel empowered to openly discuss their health issues with the management.
These awareness sessions are conducted for both male and female employees. The sessions with male employees are conducted so they are aware of the issues faced by the women at their homes and the female counterparts at work.
Other campaigns for employees were stress management, mental health awareness and support during the covid pandemic. Employees have access to a toll-free number to reach the support team, in case of any emergencies. “The sessions with the Swasti team have helped the women employees to become self-confident and courageous to face any situations in their lives,” says Vinotha.
Performance reviews and Health monitoring
On-the-job training and regular performance reviews are conducted to help identify good performers and give them the opportunity to grow within the organization. There are also performance reviews conducted by external agencies to understand the employee needs and help improve the work attitude. While that seems like a standard practice, what really stands out is the poor performance is linked back to re-evaluating the health challenge, if it all. Assuming it is poor vision, then support is provided to improve the condition and performance at work. The second safety net is that the reasons for non-performance are identified in consultation with the employees and are given guidance to identify any different role or job profile within the organization.
One other area that employees spoke positively about is the clear instructions that they receive from the management in terms of expectations from the employee. This gives clarity to the employees to take the initiative forward in a confident manner.
Product Quality, Environmental initiatives, and Standards
All products of A-Tex are made of eco-friendly and sustainable materials, which are certified for Global Recycled Standard (GRS), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), recycled-PET bottles and GOTS. The organization is also certified for ISO 14001, SA 8000 and audited for SEDEX compliances.
A-Tex has implemented rooftop solar, which contributes to about 35% of their total energy consumption. Energy-saving initiatives such as LED lighting, daylighting system, direct-drive servo motors are installed on sewing machines. Solar energy is effectively used in the finishing section of the factory. Lean manufacturing systems ensure effective utilization of available space and optimum utilization of the raw materials.
Rainwater harvesting systems helps in charging the groundwater table. The features in the building are aligned to the green building standards. Fabric & Yarn processing vendors are certified for ZLD. In-house printing capacity ensures BRAND protection for its customers and has implemented an effluent treatment plant. To upkeep the biodiversity within the factory premises, a Miyawaki forest is set up and employees take pride in taking care of the forest.
Social responsibility in the communities.
A-Tex has been contributing to the nearby communities by helping renovate the local school buildings and reforestation programs as a tradition for doing social good.
Mr Prithvi looks ahead to continuing the work that they have been doing. “Company will do well when your employees are healthy – mentally and physically.”
Interviewed by Team SAGE Sustainability. SAGE sustainability is a certified B Corp, a consulting firm working for Sustainability advisory, reporting and communication