Our journeys are much more important than our destination because they not only define who we are but also show us how far we have come !
Biman Das, our next pathbreaker, Manager, R&D Fabrics & Trimmings at Hugo Boss AG (Germany), is responsible for new material development, sourcing, sustainability, circularity, quality and vendor management for the fashion brand.
Biman talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his early years and his transition from core textile manufacturing to the world of Fashion & Retail branding !
For students, your attitude, dedication and willpower will matter much more than your technical skills because skillsets can always be developed with the right mindset!
Biman, tell us about yourself
This is my root, where I came from. I was born and raised here just like them and today I had the opportunity to spend a beautiful time with these kids and share a meal with them.
The kids who are living here either don’t have parents or are from very poor families. It gives me immense pleasure to see their smiles and how actively they were listening to me while I was interacting with them. This place is full of memories and emotions.
This place gave me the opportunity to have a dream that came true. This place has a big contribution in making me what I am today. I am always grateful to this place and people. I hope that I was able to inspire them a bit with my words that if we have dedication, willpower, courage, and we learn continuously, then nothing can stop us.
Well,I come from a very normal background. My father is a farmer and I have seen him struggle in order to meet our daily requirements. He was a very good footballer during his early years and I got this skill from him as well. One thing my father taught me is to always be honest in life and I would say this is the most important lesson I have ever got from my father. My mom is a housewife, but during the early days she had to work as a daily labourer as we were really really poor and my father’s income was not sufficient to take care of the entire family. Though, she is an Anganwadi helper now and she always tells me to be a good human first and everything else will follow with time. Growing up in a small city of West Bengal called CoochBehar, I wanted to do something good through education as I strongly believe that only education can change our destiny and can save a family from poverty as well.I spent majority of my childhood ( fifth grade to 10th grade) in a govt hostel in my city where everything was provided by the hostel. After another two years I got back home to do my higher secondary after which I had to move to Berhampore, a district in Murshidabad to complete my Engineering. I then continued working and living in different parts of India as well as abroad and so on. This is how I grew up.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I completed my degree in Textile Engineering. I always wanted to study engineering, especially Civil engineering, though I ended up taking admission in Textile Engineering as I could apply only to Govt. colleges. Nevertheless, I never regret taking this stream for my engineering.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Well, I would say I am a self made person. During my early days, I didn’t even have an idea about my next career step once I completed my higher secondary exam. My parents were not educated enough in terms of degrees though they are highly educated in terms of humanity and moral values. My parents wanted me to pursue an ordinary BSc from a normal college as we had financial issues . But I was really stubborn and wanted to change my fate, hence I opted for engineering by my own wish. There was a physics teacher who used to teach me then and told me to pursue engineering as my next career step and that’s how I ended up in engineering.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
Well, I started working right after my graduation which is also the first time I came out of West Bengal. I was equally excited and a bit nervous as well. I started working as Shift Supervisor in a fabric production company in Yavatmal, near Nagpur. This was Raymond UCO Denim Pvt. Ltd. While the initial few days were spent in training to get to know the process, after a few months, I was put on shift where I had to take care of 20-25 workers in order to run the machine smoothly to get adequate quality and production. I have always been a keen learner and I used to spend a lot of time learning wherever I got the opportunity. But It was kind of tough to work on a rotation based shift as I had to work on night shift as well. So, I began thinking of moving to the product development department and I did not need to wait long for that. After a year I got the opportunity to move to the product development department from production and started learning A-Z on how to develop a textile product in detail.
From the very beginning I have always wanted to move to the fashion/retail sector though I knew that it would not be easy as the competition is really high not to mention the limited opportunity. So, I started developing my soft skills besides technical skills. Soft skills are very important for a corporate brand/retail job. In the meantime, I started applying on a daily basis for the opportunity that I was looking for.
But It was not easy, as I had to wait 5 years to get a break in a brand/retail company, but I continued to upgrade myself in terms of technical and soft skills. In between, I moved to Ahmedabad with a new job and with a better position where I got few foreign travel opportunities to attend textile fairs which gave me exposure to learn and see the work from different perspectives, which motivated me a lot.
And finally, after 5 years of continuous trying, I got my first break in a global fashion brand called H&M and I was hired there as Material Developer and then the journey continued as I moved on with my career.
After a few years I moved to Vietnam and worked there in two different organizations. I would say it was a big step in my career. I was excited to learn a totally new culture there. Again, the starting was not easy, as I had to face language issues, though I was gradually able to cope up with the environment with my openness and adaptability. After two years, I was hired by a global sportswear brand called “Brooks Running” where I worked as an Innovation Materials Engineer. I would say this was the turning point that shaped my career. Here for the first time I was working in a highly innovative footwear brand and learned lots of new things over there, especially project management skills, new technology and many more soft and technical skills. One best thing I have learned from there is that if we have the right mindset with education, then sometimes you don’t need to be from that specific technological background to get a job. I still remember my manager telling me that a skill set can be developed on the job but the most important thing is the right fit. I spent like 3.5 years in Vietnam and it was one of my best career movements and development I would say.
Next, I wanted to go out of Asia as I spent almost 9 years in Asia and though the Asian textile supply chain was known to me, I wanted to explore the other parts of the world, especially because I was keen to have a career opportunity in Europe. Then I started to upgrade my skill set again, like in between I did a lean six sigma green belt certification and meanwhile I was waiting for the right time and the right opportunity. And then one day the opportunity came and I ended up in Germany.
How did you get your first break?
It was not easy for me. The moment I was in my final semester, I started to give campus interviews. A couple of them were very close and I performed very well but in the end I did not get the job, instead my other friends got it. At one point, I was really frustrated as I was not getting a job during the campus interview. I was preparing for my masters and then suddenly I was called for a job interview at Nagpur and then finally I got the job.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
One of the biggest challenges I did face was a cultural challenge, moving from a small village in India to countries like Vietnam and Germany (now). I had to overcome all the obstacles like language barrier, communication skills, etc. But as I said before, if we have courage to accept the change and if we give time to ourselves, then everything becomes easier after a certain period of time. Change is inevitable and change is the only constant for survival.
I faced another big challenge when I moved from the production industry to brand/retail organizations. I really had to develop good communication skills, presentation skills as I came from a modest upbringing/ background and had studied in a state board. So, I had to compete with a lot of advanced people. I remember during my early days of my career, though a few of my colleagues laughed at me, I did not take it negatively. Instead, I took it as a challenge and inspiration which ignited me further to upgrade my skill sets . As I said, continuous learning with courage is really important and if we do so then nothing can stop us from being what we want to become.
Where do you work now?
I currently work as R&D Manager for Fabric and Trimmings at Hugo Boss AG. I mostly deal with new material development, sourcing, sustainability, circularity, a bit of quality and vendor management. First of all, we need to have the right mindset with adaptability and obviously courage to accept change, along with willpower to learn, and dedication towards the job. Continuous learning can make anyone fit for a particular position.
What’s a typical day like?
When I get to the office in the morning, I first check my calendar to see the meetings that are lined up, prepare and follow them accordingly for that particular task and further prioritize the workflow as per the deadlines.
The most important thing I love about my job is meeting new people, collaborating with a cross-functional team, trying to propose environmentally friendly material wherever possible and most importantly, work life balance.
How does your work benefit society?
Textile products are one of the biggest FMCG products, and by proposing environmentally friendly textile materials with innovative technology, we aim to make fashion better and greener.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Well, there are few of them but I want to quote this example. This is the time when I was working at Arvind Ltd as New Product Development manager and I was based in Ahmedabad. As I mentioned earlier, during that part of my early career, I had the opportunity to travel and attend fairs abroad and I ended up attending a fair in Paris called PV. Paris is mostly dedicated to new and sustainable textile development. Many innovators attend that fair to showcase their current innovation and products.
I gathered all the new innovation ideas from that fair and further implemented a few ideas in our product development as well.
I guess this is one of the most memorable things that I remember as I got great exposure at the early stages in my career which helped in shaping my career goals. It is really important to get the right opportunity at the right time.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
I would say you don’t need to run for success, do as you love and as you want. Apparently, an Individual need not be from a top rank university or college to reach certain heights. It depends primarily on you, the way you build yourself, the way you show dedication, willpower, courage and attitude to learn continuously. Last thing I would say is never ever give up on your dreams and dreams do come true one day.
I have a short term plan and a long term plan. It’s important to have both plans in our life. Short-term plan is to learn continuously and grow in my professional career.
Long term plan is to settle down somewhere and develop myself to that extreme level to lead a global MNC and contribute something for the betterment of humankind.