Marcel Imaizumi (Vicunha): Understanding the Production Chain
15:57 19 de November de 2022 Por Daniel Oiticica
Marcel Imaizumi, Chief Operations Officer of Vicunha
One of Ceará’s emblematic companies, Vicunha started operations in the state in 1985. This Brazilian multinational company present in Latin America, Europe, and Asia, has been in the market for over 50 years and is a global reference in Jeanswear solutions, operating in the denim fabrics segment. Currently, Vicunha has two factories installed in Ceará that produce 9 million meters of fabric per month and employ almost 4 thousand people. In this interview, Marcel Imaizumi, Chief Operations Officer of Vicunha, takes stock of the company’s operations, reveals future projects, and tells us about the advantages of operating in Ceará.
What is your assessment of the current moment of Vicunha in Ceará?
The pandemic was an important milestone in the economy of Brazil and the world because of the consequences it brought and the logistical disruption it generated. In Vicunha, we implanted a war management within the organization. The orientation was always not to lose labor. Our first objective was to keep the factories working minimally from the point of view of maintenance and not to let the machines stop. Then came the great struggle to create a safe working environment within the factories. Our safety protocols became more stringent than any we had used until then. While everybody was afraid, we used a real strategy to start producing again because we believed, and this belief became reality, that the market was going to come back with full force as it had been stopped for so long. We created, together with the suppliers, a whole strategy to come back strongly when we could restart work. And we really took advantage of our suppliers. The market returned more intensely, and we were very well structured in terms of supplies. This allowed us to enter 2021 also very strongly. While the other companies were still trying to reorganize themselves in the supply chain, these issues were no longer a problem for us. The year 2021 was very good and 2022, just as good. The company managed to maintain a leadership position in the relationship we have with the chain, suppliers and customers.
What are the greatest strengths of Vicunha in Ceará?
Vicunha’s strength is in understanding the chain, the trends that are occurring in terms of the business environment, which creates a natural resilience in the organization. This also represents proactive anticipation of needs and following a strategy path that we have already defined as pillars, whether they be sustainability, innovation, or operational excellence, because this is part of the very DNA of the organization, which chose Ceará to invest in. When we arrived in the Northeast, there was a real problem with labor qualification, water shortages, and logistical problems. We overcame everything, and this was a learning experience that perpetuated some important things for us. The issue of water, for example. I had to learn to treat water differently. Today, we have projects that involve the themes of sustainability and innovation.
What are these projects?
It is important to say what we want to be in our chosen market chain called Jeans. We are positioned and are one of the great connoisseurs of this world called Jeans Wear. This knowledge of the whole chain is also translated into services and products that we offer, information and support of values and actions for the client in a way that is based on the things that Vicunha believes in. We believe very much in the educational process and we have a training program called V.Academy, an internal training platform that we are also using to give training to our customers. We also have V.Laundry, which will be launched in December. Why is laundry important to us? Because 100% of our fabrics go through a laundry process. Vicunha started to realize that one of the problems of the chain was the lack of knowledge. So, we created this physical project and chose Ceará, our headquarters, where we operate one of the largest Jeans factories in the world. We created a mini factory there, a mini sewing concept, a mini laundry concept, with all the latest generation equipment. At the end of 2022, we will inaugurate this large laboratory in an area of 2,300 square meters, with an investment of a few tens of millions of Reals. This will be a meeting point for suppliers, employees, customers, the press, and everyone connected with this world. There, we can materialize a concept that gathers everything we believe should be the future from now on. V.Laundry is supported by other resources as well. We are bringing tools for the graphic simulation of pants, that is, you will see in real time a pair of pants being produced or planned in a digital way. This is a concept in which we use technology to break down barriers, to gain time and not keep producing samples, samples, and samples. We are able to gain speed, time, resources V.Laundry encapsulates a whole set of innovations. It is going to be used to develop our product and our client’s products. One day it might become a service, but first we want to show a different way of working to the people that are involved in this world. So, what does Vicunha do? I sell fabric. But I have to add knowledge, innovation and service to be different, to add value to our client’s chain. If brands want to understand what can be done about products, sustainability, anything, they can come to Vicunha and get this kind of information and knowledge. This is our mission.
What are the advantages for Vicunha of being installed in Ceará?
There are no regrets for having bet on Ceará, a state that welcomed Vicunha from the beginning, supporting us unconditionally, and this is very important. We have a Ceará that understands the importance of an organization and offers help to survive, because I always say, first of all, we have to survive. Surviving in the business world means having an adequate and healthy financial return on investments. We have a very interesting export logistics structure; we are closer to Europe than to São Paulo. I take a ship to Europe and in seven days I’m there. The structural condition of Ceará is different. It allows us to continue believing, betting, making investments because we are a capital-intensive industry. There are tens and tens of millions of investments to keep the business, apart from the expansion projects that we always have. We are always growing. Ceará offers a very friendly business environment and is also growing, with its technology projects, green hydrogen, the Pecém Complex itself. The continuity of this growth depends heavily on training people, training young people, and with that, Vicunha is also leading some projects. We have the Senai (National Industry Service) system, which is very strong; we have itinerant schools; we have the knowledge industry within Vicunha, with some internal, social, education and professionalization projects for young people, such as the Pescar project, which is now 20 years old. Today we have people who will soon be factory managers who came from programs of this kind. We have in-house training of textile technicians with the help of technical schools, and we are also now in discussions with municipalities, such as Maracanaú, to reinforce secondary education. The idea is to try to attract those young people who are leaving high school and give them a more entrepreneurial direction. We will continue to grow and, in this growth, have no doubt, Ceará and the factories in the Northeast will have their important place on the investment list, because we also have high-tech projects being developed.
What are the opportunities that Vicunha sees for investors within the logic of its production chain?
We start with infrastructure. In order to invest, an industry needs to be sure that there are adequate industrial landfills to receive its industrial waste, that the sanitation part is 100%, to guarantee water supply, gas, energy, biomass, alternative energy, such as solar. There are many opportunities in the infrastructure area. On the logistics issue we have a wonderful project, the Transnordestina railroad. Why don’t we connect the rail network to the maritime network? Another investment opportunity. I also see a very strong movement to promote investment attraction on the part of Ceará. Regarding opportunities within our production chain, I can tell you that in the past Vicunha invested to attract a chemical company that today is 400 meters away from our plant. But this does not mean that we have become a chemical industry. There are other industries that we are trying to attract, like packaging, for example. Today, we bring packaging, hollow tubes, cardboard tubes from other states, hundreds of kilometers away. There is also the possibility of generating a lot of maintenance services. We have a lot of room for small, medium and large company projects.