For Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia, founders of New York-based luxury fashion label Sachin & Babi, the coronavirus crisis has spawned an opportunity.
The married couple is launching The Good Kloth Company, a venture for personal protective equipment, performance workwear uniforms and casual fashion.
Good Kloth will provide gloves, masks, scrubs and uniforms for the medical, transportation, delivery, logistics, manufacturing, hospitality and retail industries, as well as a line of loungewear and basic essentials for consumers including sweatshirts, joggers and T-shirts.
The apparel and accessories in the Good Kloth lines will incorporate an antimicrobial fabric coating developed by a Swiss chemical company that typically develops surface applications for performance-based fabrics. The specially treated products are washable, reusable and sustainable.
According to chief executive officer Sachin Ahluwalia, the technology, known as BioBloX, is proprietary and has active ingredients registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other global regulatory bodies. It creates a surface coating that when applied to fabrics annihilates harmful micro-organisms on contact.
“In two to five minutes, it kills certain virus and bacteria on contact, like an influenza, which will not stick to the fabric,” he said.
“Once we were introduced to this groundbreaking technology, we immediately applied our focus to health-care workers, realizing how much they could benefit from it. However, we then began to think of so many other people who get up, go out and continue their daily lives through this pandemic. This led us to expand upon the initial concept and broaden the scope of our vision. Good Kloth has a unique solution to enable, empower and protect people in what is now our new normal,” said Ahluwalia. “We want to be a brand that helps communities reemerge with confidence, not fear.”
He made clear that BioBloX is not in itself a shield against COVID-19. “We were not necessarily looking for a silver bullet, but it creates an added layer of protection” to the personal protection equipment and apparel. “Our primary focus will always be health and hygiene,” he said. “Historically, fabric and textile innovation have intentionally focused on enhancing an already healthy body rather than providing protection as a proactive measure.”
He said he and his wife were motivated to create the antimicrobial, socially responsible Good Kloth Company when the pandemic-induced “new normal” led to greater health awareness and concerns over contagions globally.
Shifting consumer shopping patterns and the need to cater to a larger audience and a different lifestyle at lower price points were also important factors for the business. The Sachin & Babi collection, considered “accessible luxury,” emphasizes India-inspired embroidery, long dresses, special occasion gowns, bridal and accessories. It’s a cluster of categories that would be challenged given the world’s health crisis and people sheltering in.
“The challenges are where you would expect,” said Ahluwalia, when asked how his company was faring. “Trends have acutely shifted from gala gowns to soft silhouettes for at-home entertaining. Weddings are not canceled, just postponed, and they’re smaller affairs. So accessible prices with more versatile aesthetics is what we are focusing on.” He said the company relaunched its web site with an offering that’s less dressy than in the past.
“We are not changing who we are, but the definition of eveningwear is changing,” said Ahluwalia. “People are scaling down things, though people are still getting married. Our bridal collection is doing very well.
“At no point back in March did I ever believe there would be the devastation we are seeing from this pandemic,” added Ahluwalia. “But later, after having conversations with the people in my factories, talking with my father and mother who run my factory in Mumbai, we thought, ‘how do we bring us into a safer environment.’ One of the issues in Mumbai is that all my workforce uses public transportation,” which is crowded. There are 250 workers at the family-owned Mumbai factory, which enables the company to control the entire design and production process and eliminate middlemen.
Sachin & Babi also utilizes a 4,000-worker factory in Vietnam, where the majority of Good Kloth is being produced, a country where bicycles and mopeds are the main form of transportation.
Ahluwalia expresses awe and gratitude for front-line workers at medical facilities, groceries, pharmacies and other essential businesses and services in the U.S. “It has amazed us how at no point during the pandemic did the country really stop running,” he said. “Our grocery stores here stayed opened. Delivery people continue to do their jobs.”
Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia met during their first semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Sachin studied fashion and Babi studied textiles. They bonded over their ambitions and upbringing in New Delhi, India. Each arrived in the U.S. about 25 years ago to study at FIT and became U.S. citizens in 2007. They built a design and embroidery business, working behind the scenes for Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Jean Paul Gaultier and Manolo Blahnik, among others, before launching their own collection 10 years ago.
The upcoming Good Kloth casual line encompasses “things that we wear every single day,” said Sachin Ahluwalia. The object is to sell the line at stores such Bloomingdale’s and Anthropologie, and offer a “clean, tailored look in pale, neutral and earth tones at contemporary price points.”
Good Kloth will start production in the next 60 days and is in distribution talks in the medical and fashion fields. “At the moment we are not moving forward as a dot-com business. It’s strictly b-to-b,” said Ahluwalia.
He expects Good Kloth merchandise for hospitals and businesses to be shipped for fourth-quarter delivery, while the consumer line is being prepared for a spring 2021 delivery and will be shown to retailers in the next 30 days.
The antimicrobial coating creates “absolutely no change in the texture of the fabric. It does not cause any irritation to the skin,” said Ahluwalia. “There’s almost zero evidence of any change of texture and there’s no change in the weight of the fabric. It can be applied to woven or nonwoven fabrics.”
Ahluwalia said the cost of the antimicrobial coating is “minimal, although it is there. We are trying to position ourselves very competitively, especially in the b-to-b space. It is critical for us to go to market with a competitive product. We believe this product and the antimicrobial application needs to available and accessible to every single person. This is not a premium product.
“In terms of the operations, we are using our current infrastructure, which has been in place for the last 20 years, including our creative team, globally integrated supply chain and extensive manufacturing network. We also have a group of advisors on scientific and legal aspects helping us understand the environmental protection regulations and claims that we can make. We’re very careful on the claims.”
Earlier this month, Sachin Ahluwalia was hit by a car while riding his bicycle in Midtown. He’s now sporting a large cast extending all the way up his thigh, but he says he’s OK and can focus on Good Kloth. “We need to bring life back to normal as much as we can,” he said. “Science needs to come to the forefront. I intend to take advantage of these smart people of science.”