Warehouse moves, new brands and plans, P&P editor Melanie Attlesey talks about it all with Sanjay and Neil Jheinga of Absolute Apparel.
A little bit of then and now
Absolute Apparel was founded 13 years ago by Sanjay and Neil’s father Frank Jheinga. Frank’s background in the garment distribution sector spans more than 30 years, but in 2005 launched Absolute Apparel as his own family based private label importer.
Without any desire for a distribution network, the Absolute Apparel brand began wholesale with just four very solid products aimed at the workwear market. With his previous strong relationships Frank also started to stock and distribute a selection of Fruit of the Loom and Gildan T shirts. As Sanjay says: “Frank has always been a hardcore T shirt wholesaler at heart and he couldn’t let his old customers down, who relied on him for tees.”
Over the years Absolute Apparel has grown and developed its product range and portfolio as customers demanded a wider garment offering. The growth has been dramatic and fast. With the growth came the demand for space to hold this burgeoning product range of over 600 styles across 24 brands. Last year Absolute Apparel completed its fifth warehouse move in 13 years into a 150,000sq ft distribution centre, growing substantially from its first warehouse which was a tiny 5,000sq ft by comparison. In all this time Absolute Apparel maintained its key focus on service and accuracy at all levels.
The company’s new facility sits on a six and a half acre site with plenty of room for development. The warehouse used to be the Courtauld’s Rayon dyeing plant and most recently the construction manufacturer Caterpillar’s UK factory, before they moved manufacturing overseas. In a nod to the building’s history, parts of the refurbishment’s salvage and machinery have been used in Absolute Apparel’s showroom in homage.
To illustrate how vast the warehouse is Sanjay says: “All of our warehouse managers wear fitness trackers and during the first few days that we were moving in and stocking the warehouse they were hitting 40-50,000 steps a day. Now they are averaging 20-30,000 a day, which is still quite a lot of steps.”
Absolute Apparel is very much a family affair. Sanjay and Neil were helping out in the warehouse during the summer holidays when they were teenagers and although when they were younger neither had plans to join the business full time, Neil joined the business in 2010 and Sanjay followed in 2013. Their mum Nina also works in customer services, and while the other members of the 40-strong team aren’t immediate family they are very much seen and treated as such.
After starting with just four Absolute Apparel products; the Precision and Pioneer polo shirts and the Stirling and Magnum sweatshirts, as well as a smattering of Fruit of the Loom and Gildan T shirts, Absolute Apparel’s portfolio now extends to over 20 brands.
The four founding Absolute Apparel garments still stand strong among the other Absolute Apparel products in the range, which has grown to include corporate shirts, long johns and headwear now spanning 73 different products.
“As customer demand for other special order products grew, some becoming extremely popular we added them into the collection on a permanent basis. We’ve got several products currently in the pipeline like this, so watch this space,” explains Sanjay.
Absolute Apparel’s second home grown brand is Causal Classics, which was developed in 2014. “With the big silhouettes our Absolute Apparel brand is focused on our hardcore workwear customers and we found that some customers just wanted a more fitted garment. Although the quality of the of the product in the Casual Classics range is still as good, it’s just with less fabric being used we can offer a lower price point and aim the at a completely different market,” says Sanjay.
Neil adds: “Absolute Apparel garments are built for work, whereas Casual Classics is built more for fashion and promotion. You’ll find more fashionable colours in the range, a slightly lighter weight and more of a fashion fit. It’s a fairly new brand so we are still developing it and have plans to add more products in the near future with a view to target different market sectors.”
At the beginning of the year Absolute Apparel became the UK’s only full line stockist of Stedman and also became the UK’s only stockist of Italian headwear brand Atlantis.
Sanjay explains: “During the last year we decided that we needed to expand upon our headwear portfolio because some customers do need more fashionable headwear items, whereas our collection consisted of basic beanies or caps. We took on some of the range in January. Feedback from customers has been really good so we will look to become full line stockists in the future.”
Whereas for Stedman, the brothers feel that this brand is a great addition to Absolute Apparel’s portfolio. “The new products that we took on to fill the gap are quite exciting. The brand’s range is comprehensive, including a modern hi-tech activewear range and good quality outerwear. The new biker jacket is also really popular among customers. A big bonus for us is that this year Stedman increased its organic offering. In previous years if a customer wanted an organic product we would usually make it for them as a bespoke order,” says Sanjay.
Neil adds: “Stedman has a product for nearly every market, so it was a good move for us to take on the whole collection. The fashion styles are perfectly on trend but still offer great value and consistency throughout. The great plus for Stedman is that there is a his and hers version in each style on offer.”
More than just a distributor
As has already been alluded to Absolute Apparel is also a manufacturer. As well as manufacturing and importing its own house brands, the company is also capable of manufacturing bespoke orders for customers.
Over the years Absolute Apparel has built up fantastic relationships with factories all over the world.
Sanjay explains: “The bespoke service we offer is true customisation. That means any colour, any fabric, any level of certification, any country in the world. Even if a customer just wants a stock product with their own neck label we can do that as well. Anything that you can think of we can make it.”
“That’s right,” confirms Neil. “The options are endless. There is no point in working with just one factory that is limited to manufacturing one item. We partner with different factories because each factory will have its own strength, which means we can really offer our customers competitive options. Typically we manufacture out of East Asia as this is the most economical place to manufacture, but if someone wanted a polo shirt to be manufactured out of Africa we would find a way to make this happen.”
Although the brothers are tight lipped about the future of Absolute Apparel it is clear that during the last 13 years the business has grown substantially and this will surely be emulated as the company looks to develop and broaden its product offering in the years to come.
“Our new facility places us perfectly to grow ourselves again over the next decade by the same margins. In this time we will never forget our loyal customers and will aim to offer the same excellent service in the future that we have always given in the past,” says Sanjay.
And there you have it, a little insight into the world of Absolute Apparel.