Reorganising everything to new ways of working

Reading Time: 13 minutes

I am Nguyễn Thị Nhường (Su Nguyen), Founder and CEO of LOC Group Fashion Joint Stock Company 

Su left university to start a research and production programme on rimless bras in February 2016, and officially launched her lingerie manufacturing business in July 2016 with Loc, her boyfriend, naming the company after him. She later graduated from Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine and Pharmacy as a doctor.

Here is a video interview in Vietnamese that another of our students, Trần Thủy Tiên, did with Su, {17 minutes}

(You can read more of Teal Unicorn’s client stories in English here)

As the competition is as fierce as war, the elimination and “natural selection” are increasingly taking place on a broader scale requiring Vietnamese businesses to adapt to survive and thrive whether they like it or not.

From the beginning, LOC has asked questions and looked for answers: How to develop in the fashion industry that has this fierce competition? Fortunately LOC found our partners Teal Unicorn who teach us and give lots of useful advice.

After participating in the training course “Becoming an agile manager” and a workshop “Applying new ways of  working and managing” – simulating a business that has changed from an ineffective bulky business into an agile business – we applied these concepts to LOC’s manufacturing practices. This is the story of LOC.

The problems in the past:

The production division was not well organised: The cutting section was far from the sewing line, as well as the quality control (QC). It took a long time to transport from cutting to conveying, exchanging, returning and replacing wrongly cut goods. The QC department was away from the assembly. There were isolated working areas and poor information flow.

The QC department found many product errors, and lots of conflicts occurred. More product defects showed up even after delivery to customers.

The warehouse took a lot of time to search for raw materials. Warehouse staff were not aware of the orders to be put into production, so they did not know in advance what materials to prepare. They often gave wrong or incorrect amounts of materials to the factory.

We did not track the amount of goods needed to produce an order, especially urgent orders, or goods with special details.

Percentage of errors, damaged, or moldy products were high.

Productions which didn’t have all sizes done remained in the warehouse for so long that it led to fading of color, poor quality, and the need to throw them away.

Information flow between different units was not good and clear, which led to confusion and slowing.

Some people in some sections had to do too much. As a result, there were bottlenecks in different places.

The whole organization was overloaded, busy but productivity was low.

The improvements LOC have made:

1. Rearranging the sewing factory:

Relocating to a new location to have more space and more facilities. Every section is located at the same place.

All units were rearranged flowing in a Value Stream.

Units are separated by a dividing line on the floor: better information flow, people can see each other’s work, better support each other.
We renamed units according to their functions to show what they create.

Described the work of a coordinator and a tailor-made model so that more qualified people work for more specialized jobs.

Rearranged raw materials (thread), dividing into 3 main areas: the most common thread colors, only for the sewing collection, the less used threads, stick lace with threads. Reduced time for searching thread and comparing thread to lace.

Arranged bra padding types, colors, size of the pads, dividing cup sizes and their colors before cutting to reduce a lot of time in the process.

Gave each sewing worker a basket to put the items that were used during the day. The end-of-day unprocessed product will be put in a carton to continue working the next day. Personal belongings were stored in a shelf to avoid having too many objects around the production line causing confusion and difficulty to find items.

Put baskets on the production line divided into two categories of goods: urgent orders and normal orders, from which all members can see the product flow making it easy to control and very easy to find them.

Used different color baskets so the priority mode is clear for each different type of goods. All employees see the colors and they know which goods are prioritized then they can complete quickly and timely.

Replaced transparent plastic cards with a note inside showing product specifications to avoid paper loss during the movement on the production line, thus ensuring the right model and right number after completing.

Rearranged wire parts by specifying quantity and color sizes of each type of wire, eyelet, or hook. Reducing time to search for them and everyone can get the materials they need.

Contained materials that are waiting for assembly, assembling, or already finished products in plastic boxes with lids, and glue on clear information to reduce dirty, moldy parts, and make them easy to find.

2. Reorganise the  warehouse and its operations

Rearranged the warehouse of raw materials, control the amount of in and out and inventory.

Warehouse staff know in advance the amount of materials needed for upcoming orders and actively prepare enough quantities.

3. Improving wire cutting unit and QC

Checked the execution time at stages and then divided it into work groups to reduce errors and arrange work in cadence.

Rearranged the workflow to create a seamlessness between workplaces: sewing line – QC – putting pads. The cutting unit has changed the pattern to help it be done faster, easier to sew, less cropping. Reduced cutting time and saves more materials.

A week after changing, the productivity increased to 150% and all inventory in the QC department was resolved within 2 weeks.

4.  Visualise  workflow and information flow

Encourage all departments to make a kanban board so everyone can see the workflow.

Support each person, each department, to ensure people know each other’s work and manage their work well.

Using pictures to visualise customer feedback so that everyone understands the value of their work

Organise every morning stand up meetings, list the tasks that everyone will do today and the priorities.

Top priority is the flow of information: after receiving the information, a coordinator will notify each department with a note of the latest information and place it in the most visible place.

Agree on common principles to ensure that everyone is aware of the change and correctly understand the change, which helps to avoid incomplete or incorrect information.

Develop models and specifications for each product category then provide information, catalogs and products to all divisions.

5. Creating a united environment throughout the company

Organising monthly birthday parties for employees who have a birthday in the month..

Playing games, writing thank you cards to each other …

Doing meaningful activities together such as going to picnics, playing team building games, planting plants, cleaning the factory daily, weekly …

Agreeing on how to behave with each other.

Encouraging each member to find problems, discuss the root cause of the problem, and encourage people to propose a solution to the problem.

Agreeing that the next stage is the customer of the previous stage.

Teal Unicorn know nothing about the manufacture of lingerie. We coach and train on the principles of New Ways of Working and Managing, and suggest ideas to try based on those general principles.  The solution lies within the staff and system of the client – we facilitate them finding it.

Results LOC achieved:

After doing a lot of gradual improvements over a period of nearly 5 months, most of the aforementioned problems have been resolved, the productivity of LOC has increased by 68% compared to the past. We are grateful to Mr. Rob and Cherry for guiding and consulting to help us continuously improve and always be asking: Can we be more lean? Can we do it better? Can we do it faster? Many questions are posed to find greater answers about breaking through, innovating, and further developing to meet our customers’ demand better.

Most importantly, we have built LOC into a family where everyone feels they belong, where managers have learned how to be gardeners, where they look after and grow staff every day so they are constantly striving for the best quality and service for everyone who loves the products of LOC.

Teal Unicorn are so proud to be servants of Su and Loc. Su is a strong and dynamic woman who has made her own way against the resistance of Vietnamese culture, to be a successful liberated feminist woman beloved by her family and staff. Loc has supported and stood by her all the way, contributing his own intelligence as well. Cherry loves their beautiful comfortable products. They are now our friends.

A 2020 update

In January 2021, a newspaper article appeared about LOC. Cherry reviewed it:

We are proud of you Su Nguyen  and team LOC. After 3 times bringing the team to the Diggers game with Rob and Cherry to know how a self-organized lean factory should operate, and after how many days of perseverance on our coaching course, and learning how to sell agily, and applying a salary-based skills policy … you have led the team to overcome COVID-19 dramatically.

LOC not only did not experience a crisis, but also thrived in the face of disease and unfavorable markets.

Thank you, one of my golden girls .

Hopefully there will be many entrepreneurs who dare to change and apply agile thinking like her.

Ps / Cherry is a fan of LOC unwired underwear. Wearing it feels extremely comfortable and lovely. Highly recommended. 🤩

Here is our translation of the article:

Overcoming the Crisis of COVID-19

Su Nguyen, aged 28, debuted her brand of underwear with no frames 4 years ago. The idea now would hardly survive a year heavily affected by the COVID-19 epidemic, but Su Nguyen’s products get ever more customers orders.

Set out many response scenarios

Nguyen Thi Nhuong, known as Su, set up a startup specializing in women’s underwear in 2016. Because Su came from the medical sector, the frameless bra made by Su focused first on health, then usability, then fashion. Having only launched the product for a while, Su’s brand attracted a lot of young girls, and also women who had given birth. Every few months, Su launches a new collection. From a 10-square-meter room with the first hand-crafted products made by her, up to now, when Su has a factory in Bien Hoa with several dozen specialized sewing machines and other machines, providing jobs for 42 employees.
As the general situation of the market, 2020 is a year full of fluctuations and challenges for individuals and especially businesses, especially small businesses. Su said: “As a former student in the specialized medical community, so I came up with the scenarios that could happen with the market and your business in the epidemic situation. As soon as it appeared in the New Year [Tet: Lunar New Year] of 2020, we had meetings continuously to rebuild our year plans. The first meeting with all the members of the company after Tet was to talk about the Covid-19 epidemic, and broadcast. It is fortunate that the staff always accompany and unite with the company to prepare for a year of challenges ahead “.

The company has no ranks, no positions

Financially, Su said, the company focused on optimizing resources, reducing costs from the smallest things like printing paper, disconnecting electricity when not needed …, collecting all cash to ensure that salaries could be maintained if the operation was forced to stop. At the same time, each month, they set aside a reserve fund to prevent risks occurring.

“In terms of people, instead of cutting staff, they will do more work. Each member will play many different roles… There are no ranks, no positions, and we only distinguish the skills that they have when they work. No one is too idle and no one is too busy. Allotted out for a smooth, unobstructed flow – fast fail – quick fix. Change to adapt, not wait for everything to pass”, shared Su.

Change the way of doing, new approach

After a year of upheaval, Su realized that the world is constantly changing, each individual needs to be ready to change at any time to embrace the challenges ahead and always be creative and uplifting – leveled up to be better than yesterday.

“We should not stop, waiting for the difficulties to pass, but instead try to change the way of doing, the new approach. The challenge comes when individuals and businesses receive and learn a lot of lessons to survive and develop” Su said.

Sales peak month is twice as much as products’ average

Thanks to the bravery, creativity and dynamism of the diminutive owner along with the unanimity of more than 40 members of the company, Su’s no-rimmed underwear brand not only did not lose money, but on the contrary, it also maintained performance, with even more support from customers in the Covid-19 crisis.

Su received more online orders when overseas imports were banned. Currently, Su’s brand has thousands of customers who became “fans” who regularly interact in Fanpage. And especially, members and customers recently joined hands to establish a Fan Club fund to share love to Da Nang during the epidemic and flooding in Central VietNam.

“2020 was a year when the members of the company have had days of highly strung tension, staying awake and pale, to research new products, new techniques, new ways from customer feedback. Difficulties and challenges for sure, but in April at the peak of Covid-19 we sold 14,000 units while normally we sell only 7,000 units per month. Our current factory is being expanded, with a new product line, with 42 young dynamic, enthusiastic and creative employees “, said Su.



(You can read more of Teal Unicorn’s client stories here)