Keya, a Bangladesh-based producer of 100-percent cotton T-shirts and other knit apparel,is finding success in the U.S. market by using a North Carolina beachhead as its distribution point. Keya USA is growing as it penetrates markets for products for advertising specialty and screen-printing markets. Keya is the largest producer of knitted apparel in Dhaka, Bangladesh, producing more than 8 million dozen garments annually and employing 11,000 workers.
Greg Brown, senior vice president of sales and operations for Keya USA, says the key to the brand’s success is providing a ring-spun cotton shirt at a comparable price to an open-end product. According to Brown, ring-spun is the differentiator from other commodity items because it offers a softer hand and a better print face. Fabrics made with open-end–spun cotton have a rougher feel, he said.
“What Keya is all about is ring-spun cotton,” Brown says.
Keya’s U.S. operation is housed in a 70,000-square-foot distribution center in High Point, N.C., a city known for its massive annual furniture market but that is also in proximity to North Carolina’s traditional textile manufacturing centers, which include the Winston-Salem area, home to Hanesbrands. Keya Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Abdul Khaleque Pathan used to travel to Winston-Salem to sell products to Hanes, which was one of Keya’s largest customers, purchasing about 7 million dozen T-shirts a year. In 2009, Pathan decided he wanted to introduce the Keya brand to the U.S. The Keya USA division was subsequently launched in September 2011.
Keya tries to keep at least 250,000 T-shirts in the High Point facility at all times, Brown said. Most of these products arrive by ocean freight to the port in Norfolk, Va., and are then trucked to High Point, which receives from two to three containers every 10 days.
Rock ’n’ roll has been good to Keya. A lot of the company’s T-shirts wind up in that industry. Bravado, a well-known music merchandising company, is one of Keya’s largest customers.
While the overall T-shirt market seems to be flat at the moment, Brown said Keya is seeing consistent growth. The company finished strong in 2014, garnering nearly $10 million in sales.
“Our business is good, and we are growing,” he said. “One thing that drives our market is what’s going on in the entertainment world. If Disney introduces a big new movie, that helps drive us. If Garth Brooks starts a new tour, that drives us. The biggest thing is the retail component. If business is good at Walmart and Target, then our business is good.”
A consistent factor pushing growth is color. Keya produces 26 colors. Vibrant colors are trending. “They’re not neon but brighter colors such as hot pinks, bright yellows. Black and white are Nos. 1 and 2 now, and reds, royals and navys along with athletic heathers are our big volume getters,” Brown said.
While all of Keya’s manufacturing takes place in its massive vertical complex in Dhaka, the company can say it has a U.S. component. Nearly all of the cotton, about 95 percent, used in Keya’s products is grown in the southern U.S.
Brown does much of his marketing at trade shows and conferences. He attends 14 shows a year, including the Imprinted Sportswear Show and Advertising Specialty Institute Show. Both were held in January, and Brown said Keya products drew a good reception.
“ISS is always a good show,” he said. “Another good one is ASI. When you leave there, you have seen 500 to 600 people interested in your product. My goal is to get 15 percent of the people we see to buy from us.”
Brown said he also conducts seminars at trade shows to provide information about Keya. E-commerce is also a growing source of business. About 35 percent of orders come through the Internet.
Brown says the biggest challenge for Keya’s U.S. operation is maintaining its supply line. Political turmoil in Bangladesh can sometimes create obstacles.
“Like anything that involves products from overseas, there are sometimes issues. Bangladesh sometimes has political uprisings, and there can be obstacles to getting product in and out of the country. Also, sometimes public transportation shuts down over there, and that slows the process. We have to make sure we have a continual and consistent flow of products.”
Brown has a dream of one day moving Keya’s U.S. operations to Charleston, S.C., to take advantage of the port there, which is being expanded to handle larger container ships. Looking a few years ahead, he believes a Charleston base would be practical and economical.
“Down the road, who knows?” Brown said. “We are happy in High Point, and it doesn’t cost that much to get products here. We are in an old furniture warehouse, and the rent is very good. Three to five years from now, moving is very possible, but for now we are staying.”