K-Way Africa is a Cape Town brand specialized in technical and leisure apparel. Its main hallmarks are the spirit of innovation, commitment to the enviroment and high quality standars. Many improvements come from a collaboration with Gerber Technology
Yvonne Heinen and Debora Ferrero
No, this is not the talk of the Turin based company Basicnet belonging K-Way label with the blue-red stylized ‘K’, but rather of the one that shows the silhouette of Kilimanjaro – K-Way Africa. Just like the Italian outdoor sportswear brand, the South African company, which is part of the Cape Union Mart Group, is pursuing its retail expansion via its parent company.
Sales are made exclusively via the company’s own trading channel under the umbrella of the Cape Union Mart Group, established in 1933. This to include the brands Old Khaki, Poetry, Tread + Miller, Keedo and the flagship stores designed specifically for the entire outdoor area of Cape Union Mart, which also has branches in Namibia and Botswana, a total of five retail chains. K-Way apparel, also under branded equipment, represents the top-selling retail brand in the group, with a total of 250 stores.
In addition to being the local market leader in functional outdoor sportswear, the company boasts an impressive number of premieres and novelties, including being the first certified Gore-Tex fabricator with heat-sealed seams and also for Sew free® technology.
Products’ features and the company’s numbers
Craftsmanship, knowledge of the technical processes for functional clothing such as waterproof seam processing up to 10,000 mm water column, have long been congenial paired with a clean design handwriting. This is reflected in a rather narrow silhouette, currently rather simple, waiving patches & Co. K-Way. Typical are individual color ranges with cleverly set accents. Down remains important at K-Way indeed. Whereby, alternatives to the questionable use of the lower plumage of geese and ducks are recently getting evaluated intensively. The coexistence of two brands that – even with a similar sounding – have different logos, is possible because «the use of trademark rights follows a territorial agreement» explains Bobby Fairlamb, general manager of K-Way Manufacturers, Cape Town.
Around 500,000 pieces of clothing are produced every year. The retail price ranges are between ZAR 300 (€ 20) and ZAR 5,000 (€ 350), for example for products from the K-Way Antarctic Expedition Program.
Improvements and increased efficiency
The spirit of innovation is probably the most influential word to characterize the company in its present state, founded in 1981 by owner Philip Krawitz. He represents the third family generation and he shaped the change from the roots in custom-made clothing, then uniform and jacket production to individual measurements and specializing in rainwear for police and security guards.
A new era was also initiated in 2004, when Krawitz brought a free spirit of management on board: «The goal was to boost our productivity, but also sales and profitability» says the executive director of his strategy. It was Bobby Fairlamb who came on board. «You have three to four months to get us on track» he remembers. Involvement at the highly active and, above all, interactive CCTC, the Cape Clothing and Textile Cluster with some 50 member companies, and a probe into automotive production to study alternative manufacturing structures and process organization, the smart man of action tackled first back these days.
Today, following a systematic approach towards lean manufacturing, cycle times at K-Way Manufactures has been reduced drastically by eliminating the process waste through continuous improvement. Thus making the operation very efficient and only consisting of value adding steps from start to finish. Among other results it is important to underline a faster product development through pre-production style meetings where all stakeholders come together; greater levels of inventory turnover for significant stocks on high-performance fabrics and trims down to 2.5 months by the end of 2017; increased efficiency and higher throughput with a 4 week lead time from order to sale on the sales floor, for 65% of total production and an improved delivery performance, as well – but not solely – through regular supplier performance monitoring.
Gerber technology: a successful partnership
«Gerber Technology is very much part of the structure for our business and helped us a lot in those improvementes» Bobby Fairlamb declares. This goes for the cutting of a wide variety from PTFE fleece to coated or laminated materials on the two GTxL or the newer cutter, Paragon®. The partnership between K-Way and Gerber began using pattern design and marking system in the mid-Nineties, supported locally by Gerber’s long-standing partner Intamarket. Today the manufacturer utilizes the full range of Gerber’s integrated software also for grading, automatic nesting with AccuNest, and hardware solutions. «Those technologies enable K-Way to maximize quality and profitability, ensure consistency and get our products to market faster and smarter» Bobby summarizes. In addition one remains in constant communication with the Gerber experts to also benefit from latest options towards further digitalization as per the organizations demands» he rolled out.
K-Way has around 245 employees in production. In addition, around 150 additional people are employed in a total of six contract operations. Continuous training of sewing and cutting operators, co-workers in all production departments as well as in management are an integral part of the corporate strategy. Cohesion and motivation within the workforce are also promoted through regular company meetings and events. Philip Krawitz says «if you put people before profit, people reward you and the company benefits».