Rizwi Thaha, Chief Executive Officer of Cool Planet and Fosryn (XimiVogue), began his more than three decades of career as a management accountant before finally succeeding in various senior management positions locally and internationally.

Cool Planet is a Sri Lankan department store with outlets located in western and central province, which has grown to be a market leader in Fashion Retail in the past 15 years. XimiVogue is a korean based fast fashion designer brand which offers fast fashion products across categories such as home decor, lifestyle and beauty fashion products.

Some of Rizwi’s key achievements include setting up businesses, driving business plans and strategies to achieve different heights in organisations, SBU performance reviews, business expansions, automation projects, business restructuring, and new product and market development.

Explaining what drew him to the Apparel industry, Rizwi stated, “BOI firms engaged in manufacturing and exporting to global markets were considered to be the most growing industry in Sri Lanka during the early 1990s, and therefore many wanted and began working in the industry.” I got the chance to lead the Finance Department of two of the Brandix Group’s factories. It was a remarkable business exposure that I got.”

Even though the pandemic has largely impacted the Apparel and Fashion Retail industries, it has, in the meantime also opened new doors. Speaking about the same, Rizwi said, “The working culture has been affected in different aspects due to the lockdowns – the traditional office culture has been challenged. Fashion always has a core relation to the organisational culture. Thus, working at home and working at office on roster basis has given an opportunity to youngsters and senior Executives including Directors and CEOs to dress smart casual or semi formals. This has opened the door to be fashion conscious or in layman language to look good at office. It is evident that value added products such as fashion touch have greater moments – the face masks are matched with ladies’ blouses and men’s shirts. Many comfort wear and semi formals have been at the forefront of fashion. Chinos and denims have taken the lead in ladies and men bottoms.”

Describing how the pandemic has impacted the Apparel industry, the industry expert stated, “Many factories started to open doors to local brands in order to keep the factory operating full capacity and to satisfy the workers wage requirement. Thus, possibilities for feeding their production lines have been discussed, which are very delightful. To assess the local market for clothing, this demand has attracted the attention of many stakeholders. The scale of the local Apparel industry is estimated to be $3.2bn, which is much lower than the export sector. For the Apparel industry, this is a perfect opportunity. This has also drawn the attention of institutions of government and other local associations.

“‘Made in Sri Lanka’ has become a supplementary brand which has earned a greater sentimental value. In the Sri Lankan industry, this boosts the primary brand value. Many Sri Lankans are now giving priority to such goods by providing assistance to small-scale producers and being more socially conscious. This is achieved by many leading retailers to support and groom certain factories to reach quality expectations.

“Sub factories which have solely depended on exports are now having ties with local brands as the local industry has boomed and given no risk of payment. This omits the risk of any export order cancellations, which has become a greater benefit for those factories.  For retailers, outsourcing is much beneficial and cheaper.”

Rizwi believes that quality is a core fundamental in the Fashion Retail industry as the market is moving towards a quality conscious mindset and quantity is simply an indicator of market share.

“In any business, quantity growth is an indicator of market share. Year-on-year every business will focus to improve on the quantity sold, however quality is something that will make a customer come back. The quality of the product helps every business to distinguish from other market players.

“Having all parameters right without quality of the product or services, would result in less chances of survival in a competitive environment.”

Customer service is another significant parameter in the Fashion Retail industry, and therefore the primary objective and fundamental focus of Rizwi is to provide outstanding customer service.

If a repetitive customer is created by the quality of the product we provide, it is the customer service we deliver that makes the customer loyal to the brand, resulting in a ‘walking talking commercial’ to spread the word to get new customers.

“Our customer service begins from the point of being greeted by the security till the customer reaches the cashier. We have taken many steps, as a fashion retailer, to ensure that we cover all areas to provide the best customer service.”

Speaking about the increasing importance of sustainability and digitisation in the industry, Rizwi noted that many consumers are now worried about the future and are thus pressurizing fashion brands that do not have environmentally friendly practices.

He continued: “Digital transformation has shortened the lead time of a fashion trend that spreads as rapidly as possible, not being second to the worldwide spread of the COVID-19. Hence many Sri Lankans start purchasing online for the latest products. This has been a growing trend. In Europe as well as in Sri Lanka, for example, ‘print’ is the trend. The ‘tie die’ and ‘digital print’ will be introduced next year – several Sri Lankan manufacturers are now planning for the same.

“Online platforms offer Sri Lankans more fashion choices and more competitive price points, therefore retailers are forced to bring foreign trends to survive. In addition, several distributors and suppliers thrive to become the first touch point in their supply chain. This will offer a retailer a higher market share and credibility. This is very important in profiting from the product life cycle.”

Furthermore, Rizwi claimed that Cool Planet has reduced the use of plastic in packaging and sources natural fabric that are more environmentally friendly in order to cater to the growing demand for sustainable clothing.

Revealing the opportunities the CEO perceives for Cool Planet and XimiVogue, he stated that the business will strive to delight the customer through convenience shopping with trendy and quality products at affordable prices.

“We will continue to develop new designs of clothing and accessories to give uniqueness to our consumers. As one of the preferred shopping destinations, we firmly believe in greater customer acceptance and we will grow and improve our network over the next five years.”