28 Sept 2007
Cleaning Up(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 10,2007)
|Aquila Mfg Ltd has a showroom crammed with cotton and microfibre towels in thousands of colours and designs|
Every household has them, frequently by the dozen, and everyone in the world uses them, which is why the humble towel has spawned a huge manufacturing sector.
Aquila Mfg Ltd, established in 2001, boasts a showroom crammed with towels in thousands of colours and designs and in a range of qualities. And this is only the firm's summer collection for 2007.
"We started out as a family business in the 1980s, when we focused on the local market with low-end personal-care towels," says Administration Manager Shirley Kam. "However, as demand started to shrink, basically from 1997 onwards, we started looking into added-value lines and new markets."
That move led directly to the setting up of Aquila, and the production of towels. "We began working with OEMs," she says. "Today, while some customers ask us to also source some accessories for them, we are totally committed to the production of cotton towels, especially beach towels and towel bathrobes."
OEM remains an important part of the business. "Our OEM customers provide us with thousands of towel designs each year," says Ms Kam. "We make up the screens for the printing according to the artwork and our sample room will start on a prototype. Only after approval of that, the working sample and a preproduction sample do we proceed to actual manufacturing."
There are, however, two distinct product lines. "Apart from traditional, 100% cotton towels," she says, "we also make microfibre towels. While these are frequently used in cleaning and polishing tasks, ours are quite different."
She recalls that, in 2001, Aquila noticed that people living busy and active lifestyles were also becoming more health-conscious, and that's when the idea of a towel as a multifunctional item came up.
"We envisaged a towel that was easy to carry, easy to store, quick drying, and light in weight," she explains. "We pioneered the production of towels made from microfibre, a material which had previously been viewed solely as suitable for cleaning tasks."
Today, Aquila produces microfibre towels for the sports segment as well as for anyone wanting to carry around a light, absorbent personal towel. "The product is being exceptionally well-received by the market, both by buyers and consumers," says Ms Kam. "We continue to develop these items and so far can offer a range of textures, features and packages that are abreast of the market demand as textile technology continues to advance."
One market differentiator is the double-printed towel. "We are providing ideas on packaging and the possibilities of including small value-added details, such as a fringe on the edges of the towel or adding little pom-poms," Ms Kam states. "These additions can make a huge difference, and cheer up a common towel by giving it something extra."
Nonetheless, while some buyers do opt for a double print, at the same time Aquila has to remind others that one side cannot be white and the reverse side dark. "The colour will penetrate through," she advises. "Similar colours will work together, though, such as grey and black."
Aquila also tries to stimulate demand through R&D. "Our team in Hong Kong looks at such things as the addition of hooks and holes in kitchen towels, various ways to present golf towels, and different packaging options such as tubes, cardboard boxes and cards," she adds.
Aquila takes pride in working closely with its clients. "We are not merely a supplier," Ms Kam insists. "We are fully committed to supporting our customers at all stages of product development. We provide technical support in addition to suggestions about the artwork and how the customer can best achieve the target price."
While happy that OEM demand is steady, Ms Kam says that Aquila is also developing markets for its ODM items. "Micro-fibre is the superstar for the coming years," she smiles, "while the cotton towel will remain our core cash-earner."
Aquila, which uses the AQUILA brand name, has a production capacity of 80 metric tonnes per month and accepts minimum orders for cotton/microfibre of 1,200/3,600 pieces per style respectively. Delivery is 30-45 days after sample approval and order confirmation, and production takes place at the firm's 25,000-square-metre plant in Nanhai, Guangdong Province.
Aquila Mfg Ltd has certainly come a long way in a short time, and appears to have an excellent view of towelling needs across a broad range of activities.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON
Aquila Mfg Ltd