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‘Made in India’ the motto of Continuum Buying Agency A Colloquy with Founder Linda Augustsson

Linda Augustsson

Making India as her ‘Karma bhoomi’ Linda Augustsson, a Swedish woman has fought with all the odds and challenges to pursue her passion for fashion and design.

She started her company out of a living room in Delhi in 2002 that outgrown to become one of the leading buying agency in the country that has its own signature style.

Right from the beginning her vision was to create a modern buying agency by adding value to both customers and the local supply chain across India, as well as to shorten the cultural communication gap.

The company has an in-house design team which collaborates closely with freelance designers in the UK, US and Dubai.

The company specialises in ladies wear, primarily woven’s, but also knits, leather, accessories and girls wear. A few years back home furnishing was also added to its product line.

PS: How and when your journey with Indian apparel and textile sector started?

LINDA: I left Sweden and moved to India in July 2000 to set up the liaison office for the Swedish retailer Lindex.

Before that I had travelled to India many times on behalf of Lindex and in the capacity of building relationships with factories, addressing compliance and technical aspects of garment production.

I have always had a passion for designing, making my own clothes from childhood and studied at Textile Management at the university in my hometown in Boras, Sweden.

Worked as a buyer assistant and buyer for a few years, and then got this amazing opportunity to move to India at the age of just 25.

PS: What were the initial challenges and how over the years your company has grown in business, products, reach and turnover?

LINDA: The initial challenges are the same as when I arrived in 2000 i.e mindset, lack of vision and the willingness to think long- term relationships.

I started my company out of my living room in Delhi in 2002, and being a foreigner, I couldn’t even have a company in my name.

With no savings and no banks to support with any kinds of loans, because I was a foreigner, I reinvested every rupee I earned into the business and could gradually take on a small team, some of them are still with me today.

Our focus has always been ladies wear and a true Indian product, I believe in focus and to make a difference in the market where one works.

I started off with the Scandinavian market, by cold calling and selling a unique concept; Scandinavian ethics and modern contemporary designs with an Indian beautiful handwriting.

I wanted to shorten the cultural gap and eliminate the wrong perceptions and assumptions that didn’t do any good to anyone.

Over the years we went into Spain, UK, Germany, US and Middle East and we are now working with around 30 different brands.

PS: What type of products your company sources and from which countries?

LINDA: Our in-house sampling team includes skilled embroidery artisans, experienced tailors, pattern masters, embroidery artwork masters, etc.

We design all embroidery and surface deco artworks from scratch to ensure originality and cover any copyright protection issues.

All new apparel samples are developed in-house; patterns are digitised and later shared with factories for costing or for a factory to make a revised sample following our first prototype.

Currently we are sourcing only from India and I don’t have any desires to go elsewhere.

For me, it is not about just business but to be able to provide local support, do charity work etc, which one can see the progress in, by staying close to it.

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PS: What are the major challenges while sourcing from India and how do you think they can be improved?

LINDA: The mindset and willingness to adopt to the fast-moving changes around the world and to think that just because it is India we can blame external excuses and play a victim instead of taking complete ownership.

That is the mindset that also holds India back from thinking of modern technology and possibilities.

It may sound harsh when I say that but in order for India to compete at global scale, we must have a professional vertical supply chain understanding what their role is and the expectations that comes with that.

The mere existence of companies lacking professionalism and vision will block the system and make others fall.

After all, we are only as good as the weakest link in the vertical supply chain no matter if we are an agency, manufacturer or a mill.

“Volumes will go down and SKU’s will go up, but more with focus on colour options than shapes.

Sustainability will be in demand across all product categories, buyers will source consciously and explore more options as compared to what they have been doing in the past.”

PS: What is the current market situation? What has been the impact of Covid 19 and how are you as a company working on the same?

LINDA: The market has been very slow, and even more so, inconsistent bookings are seen. Customers are booking orders very late due to the current situation and increasing numbers of new cases.

The exorbitant airfreight rates are adding on to woes. We are not a cost-efficient option if you compare to nearby European countries like Turkey.

At Continuum we took necessary actions already in March before the lockdown started, to control the costs. My main aim has been to protect loyal team members for as long as possible no matter what happens.

With them we can handle the challenges and ensure that customers get the expected service and carry on the business.

Regular business trips are now virtual meetings which we started already in the beginning of the year, we have digitized all product options and we have a sales team based in Europe who has been able to visit customers while the Indian borders are shut.

We have refined our processes and our internal efficiency has improved a lot.

PS: When do you think apparel retail business will come back to normal and orders will come in full swing?

LINDA: I feel that by 2022 only things will come back to normal. I believe that the retail apparel business will change structure in times to come.

We are already seeing how online based companies are taking up share of traditional brick and mortar stores.

I also believe that less fashion will be consumed, demand will be less and we will shop more consciously, for many reasons. 

PS: What types of products are seeing demand?

LINDA:  Dresses and tops that are comfortable, attractive, easy to wear and not boring.

We don’t do hard core basic products, our products have a unique pretty handwriting often involving Indian value addition to gel with our long term vision.

We are also seeing an increased demand for jersey and genuine leather.

PS: How do you think business will change post Covid in terms of styles, volumes, products, demand and sourcing.

LINDA: I believe volumes will go down and SKU’s will go up, but more with focus on colour options than shapes.

will be in demand across all product categories, buyers will source consciously and explore more options as compared to what they have been doing in the past.

PS: As a company what is your strategy to handle the situation and how much growth you expect in the coming year?

LINDA: Focus on relationships and to be of service to both buyers and suppliers. It is more important than ever to work as a team and being with each other.

It is my responsibility to ensure that this clear message is also transmitted to my team and acted upon. I have a very clear vision but it does not matter if my team would not be aligned.

“All factories that we work with are compliant according to the standards set by customers and have various certifications such as SEDEX, BSCI, WRAP, and SA8000 etc.

Our supply chain also includes the vertically integrated collaboration partners such as weaving mills, processing houses, and dyeing mills.”

We don’t expect any growth for FY 20-21, and foresee a decline in numbers and are prepared for that.

What matters more to me is how we conduct our work, that we improve internal processes, use this time wisely to sharpen our technology skills and crack the best code to how to work in the future. 

PS: What changes will be seen in sourcing strategy of your company during and after Covid 19?

LINDA: We will only work with compatible suppliers, meeting all our requirements and having the same mindset and energy level to evolve, explore and service our customers.

Covid has been a great eye-opener for me. Not that I didn’t sense it before, but now I really see a clear line between warriors and victims in the supply chain.

The warriors impress me with their grit, stamina, positive energy and I expect nothing less from anyone in our supply chain.

PS: Are you looking for some new vendors if yes for which products? What is the criteria for selection of new vendors?

LINDA: Yes, we are always looking for vendors with a high level of product sensibility and commercial understanding, tech savvy and with the right energy level.

“We are always looking for vendors with a high level of product sensibility and commercial understanding, tech savvy and with the right energy level.

Soft woven ladies’ wear and knits or jersey is what we are looking for.”

The product handwriting must be excellent, and the mindset of the owner of the factory must be modern, openminded and solution orientated. That’s when magic happens!

Our supply chain is spread across India, but with the majority of factories located in Delhi and the North Capital Region specifically for apparel.

Our supply chain also includes the vertically integrated collaboration partners such as weaving mills, processing houses, and dyeing mills.

We engage with factory owners, enabling them to embrace the importance of well-functioning industrial relations as well as ensuring that compliance norms are followed through on.

During Covid-19 and the reopening of factories, all facilities are closely monitored via virtual factory rounds followed by immediate corrective action plans, shared and agreed with factory owners.

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