Circa 2014: Whiskers, moustaches, crinkles… we thought these belonged to men alone, but a walk in the clean, green premises of Numero Uno’s Gurgaon manufacturing unit revealed how denim also gets these! Numero Uno is the first brand to introduce a tattoo on denims. Besides, the manufacturing unit has put sustainable practices in place to minimize wastage.
Words & Photographs: Ambica Gulati
Dressed in a pair of light blue jeans and denim jacket, the sauve MD Narinder Singh, gave our group a glimpse of how jeans are born. It was in the 1980s that this man with a vision wanted to make denim a statement in India. The country was waking up to denim with the rise of pop culture. Filling in the gap, he put up a 10-acre green plant with locally assembled machines, manual washing and a long time consuming manual whiskering and moustaching and crinkling methodology.
Now, the unit boasts of hi-tech equipment with lasers and state-of-the-art washing and drying machines. And these are all eco-friendly which work with ozone and not water. So there is little water wastage and whatever water is used in washing, it is cleaned and used for harvesting the 600 trees within the premises. The ETP water plant ensures that blue becomes transparent again. In fact, Google Earth shows this is the biggest green belt on Railway Road in Gurugram.
A conversation with the MD Narinder Singh revealed what goes into the making of a pair of jeans and more. Excerpts:
How is Numero Uno different from any other brand?
We offer a complete apparel statement. When you walk into a store, you can buy anything from jackets, shirts, socks, shoes, accessories and we work more than a year in advance on trends and styles. It’s a lot of observation between the forecasts internationally and our domestic requirements. And we have been successfully catering to the needs of the domestic market.
Everything is on e-commerce and in multi-brand stores, what is your strategy to capture more markets?
We are present on Flipkart, Myntra, Jabong and Snapdeal. Our e-commerce site is https://www.numerounojeanswear.com/. We are now planning to expand across South India and western parts. We have primarily been a north-centric brand but now we are opening ourselves to more markets. We have plans of stepping into South-East Asia, South Africa, Middle East, Sri Lanka.
Are you planning to have your own outlets or are these going to be franchisees?
Even now we have a healthy mix of the two, so we will keep it to the same model but more franchisees. We have our own 40 stores across Delhi-NCR. Currently you will find Numero Uno across more than 700 outlets.
How many styles do you come out within a year?
Around 800 and very trendy as well as eco-friendly. We have a range for the environment-friendly people with green threads.
What is your share for women as compared to the men’s range?
We have been more successful in the men’s range, almost 90% of our range caters to men. We are sprucing up on the women’s range too which makes up for the rest 10%.
Is ETP a necessary devil or born out of your interest to save the environment?
It is a legal requirement. But we will be setting up a new unit at Selaqui where there are no water outlets. So, we have another plant which will recycle water and it will be completely used for harvesting. This is a step ahead of the legal norm and our way of keeping the eco-system healthy. We have two units in Gurugram and one in Dehradun at the moment, all in sync with green practices.
What has been your branding strategy?
Be the NU U. Denim is an age-friendly fabric, everyone wears and everyone loves it. But everyone wants a fresh one too… so there is a NU U all the time in you and with you.
Tattoos on denims…They are the NU U! People like them on their skin and the same facility has been extended for their denims. We have taken the machines to a couple of cities and it was very successful.
Our brand ambassadors over time have been Lisa Hayden, Marc Robinson, Laxmi Menon, Mini Mathur, Bruna Abdullah and more.
Which is your favourite denim—bleached, scraped, laser?
The absolute raw one which is found in the mills.
And for those of you closer to Railway Road in Gurgaon, the unit also has store where you can shop.
Exploring The Unit
Walking into the designing department, we browsed through the samples, the computers had design software open. Designers were busy discussing what to do for the next collection. The current collection was already the stores, only the jackets were in the process of getting ready.
Labour is hired on daily wages and there are full-time employees too, depending on the number of hands required to make your favourite denim reach you. After constant erasing and making new designs, studying forecasts and colours and shades, the designs make it to the patterning department. Here brown paper sizes are made—for men the range is between size 28-38 and women 26-36. And then cut out on the required fabrics. Denim is sourced from Arvind, Raymond and KG Denim mills.
The interesting part is that a single piece of garment has 11-15 pieces—pockets, loops, belts and more. And each part is made separately and then put into a whole. For the loops, a machine cuts about 1500 loops per day. This speeds up the system.
Man and machine are in sync at Numero Uno. Man designs and the computer aids in getting the precision and the end product and quality are a result of this.
All parts of the designs are distributed in different departments. For instance, the embroidery design gets its pattern which is on the computer and it rolls out the machines to suit that. The Laser is also done through computer aided design patterns—the right amount of moustache needed is precisely placed.
It is in the washing that the denim gets its stylised look. There are different processes that give it a different look: Ozone Bleaching, Laser Machine, Hand Scraping, Stone Washing, G 2—Waterless Washing Machines.
Some patterning is done through laser where whiskers and moustaches come out. Then there is hand scraping with sand paper on balloon-fitted legs which gives it that scraped look. For a faded and worn out look stone scraping helps. And to keep the crinkles, there is a process known as baking. Yes, the jean is actually baked in an oven. From there to washing and drying. And finally packing to make it ready to wear. Even the ironing is done with air! But you don’t feel the heat in the unit; it’s bright and airy all around.
All the machines are environment friendly, Singh explained. G2 from Jeanologia in Spain is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of environment-friendly laundry machine. Numero Uno is one of the few companies in India which is using this machine. It washes jeans with about 60% less water and almost no chemicals. Case studies in the US show that G2T can actually result in 67% savings in energy and water, 55% savings in time, and 85% savings in chemicals. It removes back-staining and loose indigo without detergents, bleaches without using chemicals, eliminates the need for potassium permanganate spraying, improves croking in dark finishes, and creates unique yellow-cast doe true vintage looks.
Solar energy water heaters are used for lighting the plant, office and the warehouse. Wind ventilators are used to push out hot air from the factory floors instead of the traditional industrial exhaust systems. Large rain water harvesting facility is there. Recycled paper bags are used.
This article first appeared on my blog cumalive.blogspot.com (now defunct) on 28th September 2014