Master Linen’s masterstroke: from premium linen home textile exporters to creating a brand for linen garments

This story is about a company that specialized in ‘Linen for Home’ product range and successfully reached USD.15 million turnover within 15 years. The company is now taking on the challenge of retailing linen for men and women in India. Retailing it under the brand name Denis & Di, the art of making Linen accessible to everyone looking for class, comfort, style, and sustainability is adding a new dimension to the Karur textile profile.

Introduction:

Master Linens Inc. is one of the leading linen product manufacturing companies’ globally and specializes in premium home textiles. The company was incorporated in 2005 in the textile town of Karur, well known for exports. Mr. Arasu Sethupathi, MD, Master Linens Inc. started this journey with only twenty employees in that year and now the company employs 1000 people, with revenues reaching USD.15 million, 4 million meters of fabric capacity catering to kitchen, dining, bed, and bath products. The new milestone is the launch of the retail brand for linen recently known as, Denis & Di. The company is one of the few that deal with Linen textiles. One of the USPs for the company is catering to wider width Linen requirements which very few companies specialize in at the global level.

While every entrepreneur has a story that is unique to them, their struggles, and sacrifices, very rarely does one come across someone who attributes their success to their mentors. Not only that, respecting knowledge, and knowledge providers above everything else seldom find an expression in these journeys.

The Journey of Master Linens Inc.

Karur, a small town located on the banks of River Amaravati, a well-known export hub of home textile products. Overall, 250 textile-related business units do a total of 8000 crore turnover. Initially, Karur was mostly catering to Indian markets, and in late eighties, there was some demand from the European markets. It was in the mid-nineties that Karur opened as the home textiles export hub when a leading global giant entered Karur for its home products ranges.

There is no dearth of challenges for a young entrepreneur who is setting up a new textile company, not knowing the contours of starting an enterprise. “However, the drive for finding a niche, and finding that niche, and enjoying the journey is the secret to moving forward” says Sethu. Professionally trained as a textile engineer, Sethu grew up with aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur. Reveling in the early association with Denis Druon, a French Linen expert, Sethu kept moving ahead enjoying every bit of the journey. The association with Denis continued. While Denis mentored Sethu and the nuances of Linen production and sourcing, the transparency of sourcing became a part of the company’s DNA.

What is so special about Linen?

Mostly the conversation on Linen starts from its historical importance and the Linen weaving and dyeing knowledge in ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures. However, it is not about the history alone, it is about the comfort that the fabric provides.

Linen has natural advantages as it is durable, cool, and soft with no lint. Linen is considered posh and luxurious and the reason it has remained a choice for those who can afford it. It is developed from the bast fiber of flax plant. The best flax is grown in Normandy area of France and other European countries.

The other area that is so significant today is Sustainability. Is Linen a sustainable fabric?

As less water is used for the cultivation of flax, and the crop does not require pesticides and fertilizers for growing, it does extremely well on life cycle impacts on energy, emissions, water, and soil.

When it comes to traceability, if the sources are well known, which in the case of Master Linens can be traced back to the farm level, hence it is a 100% traceable product. Besides the compliances that must be the base, the organizations have to do a lot more to create a product that can be called sustainable. Master Linens is certified for GOTS, Global Recycling Standard, European Flax, OEKO-TEX. The firm is also an ISO 9001:2015. However, for a sustainable thought process, there is no dull moment, as the company has taken upon itself a challenging task for sourcing 100% renewable energy. The company has only dry operations and hence no water for processing is required on the premises.

Denis & Di: Retailing of Linen

The tribute to the mentors, Denis and Dorothe, the brand is already retailing at Karur, Chennai, and Tirupur in India. Why, these cities and Sethu is clear on starting the garment journey from its hometown. The idea of retailing is to create awareness on the fabulous fabric, so Indians start using it. When it comes to women’s wear there is no brand catering exclusively to the Linen garments, even though there is some awareness on Linen for Men’s wear.

What led to this initiative is Sethu’s passion for exploring new business ideas and forward integrating the business. The idea is to create awareness of Linen and create a preference for Linen fabric. This is being sold through international fashion and boutique houses as well as exclusive stores.

Employees and Communities

Amongst the workers employed in the production facilities, about 40% are women and while more than 50% are migrant workers, they are provided with free food, accommodation, and transportation. The company is certified for SA 8000 which ensures that the workers are paid minimum wages. The workers are also covered by the workmen insurance policy.

As a part of the community social responsibility, the company has taken multiple initiatives such as providing job opportunities to the physically challenged and providing periodic medical and eye camps in the nearby villages. Educating underprivileged students in nearby communities as well as providing financial assistance to rank holders and supporting schools for their infrastructure are some of the areas that the management finds particularly important.

Way forward: The Journey ahead

Mr. Sethu celebrated the year ending with Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman-Aditya Birla Group in Grasim @ 75 meet. It was a delight for him to speak about long standing relationship with Grasim. One among only three speakers who spoke about relationship with Grasim.

Mr. Sethu seen here with Mr. Aryaman Birla and Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman Aditya Birla Group at the Grasim event.

The current product mix has about 65% linen and hemp-based (Eco Friendly Fibers) and 35% cotton. Mr. Sethu aspires to double the capacity by 2025 and go for only sustainable fibers and 100% renewable energy.

As far as Denis & Di is concerned, twenty-five stores across the country by 2025 is a target that the company is working on. What is special is that Sethu feels that while there is some traction on Men’s linen, women have missed out on the wonder fabric and so an exclusive store for women is a part of the plan in 2022 and the women pure linen brand Dorothe will be born in 2022

Making linen fabric the pride of Karur, the company is going to open online shopping experience zones for the discerning Linen seeker.

Interviewed and written by: Dr Shashi K and Abija Nambiar, SAGE Sustainability