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Fashion Statement: Felicia Gan

Felicia Gan had no fashion experience when she joined her mother’s textile manufacturing company Ghim Li. Today, as CEO, she’s pushing sustainability and technology to new heights within the industry.

The dynamism of the fashion industry is perhaps best exemplified by the changing seasons. As the leaves grow, die and fall ad infinitum, so do fashion trends. In this way, the leaders of the industries that make fashion possible, such as textiles and garments, fill the shoes of Mother Nature to keep the cycle moving.

When Felicia Gan first joined Singaporean textile and apparel manufacturer Ghim Li in 2006, it quickly became apparent to her just how dynamic the industry is. "The textile and garment industry is a fast-changing environment that is very detailed and requires a close watch on things," she explains.

"We’re always either in development or production at any point in time." Ghim Li began life in 1977 as a collection of six sewing machines owned by Felicia’s mother Estina Ang. Over the years, Estina turned this modest set-up and a US$3,000 investment into an Asia-wide manufacturer of textiles and apparel that works with some of the biggest retailers in the US.

Household names such as Walmart and Macy’s are among the clients won over by the company’s dedication to quality. "My mother has built a good brand reputation for Ghim Li," Felicia says proudly.

"It’s renowned in the industry for delivering quality service and products." It is also renowned for Estina’s personal touch. "Sometimes when I meet new customers, they recall my mother dearly," she says.

"They’ll ask me about her and tell me stories of how hard she worked to support their brands and find creative solutions to difficult issues." In 2006, Felicia joined Ghim Li as a legal officer, but quickly became entwined in talent management. Before long, she was appointed Chief Administrative Officer.

We’re always either in development or production at any point in time.

"What I enjoyed most was employee engagement and assessing the strengths and weaknesses in each individual as we trained and upgraded their skills and mindsets to take on bigger roles within the company," she says.

"We have a large group of loyal employees who’ve been with us a long time, and their wealth of knowledge needs to be imparted to the next generation." Felicia’s time in human resources imbued her with the kind of management skills crucial to her tenure as CEO, which began in July 2021.

"We’re a labour-intensive industry, so my primary focus on human resource management at the start of my career was an important stepping stone to becoming CEO," she says. It was only after stepping into the top job that some of her greatest professional challenges emerged.

"Initially, it was very difficult for me as a young girl to change certain aspects of management, which have been set in stone for a long time," Felicia concedes.

"Against all odds, I pushed for change in a smaller setting as a proof of concept, and slowly drove mindset change within the organisation." Felicia’s knack for uncovering talent hidden within the company and empowering those people has made Ghim Li even stronger.

"When I see young and talented individuals not only move up in their career but also attain character growth, it gives me a sense of achievement of what we’ve accomplished together," she says.

Fashion has come a long way since the days of Estina’s six sewing machines, and Felicia is tasked with keeping abreast of technological developments in an industry already moving like the wind.

"Our speed sets us apart. Through the strategic locations of our factories and fabric mill to the 3D digital design and fast delivery lead times, we’re able to offer flexibility and diversification of designs to our clients," she reveals.

New tech also makes a big difference to sustainability; in recent years, Ghim Li has cut emissions by 20%. "Consumers are demanding more sustainable products, and we have special green teams that promote and implement our sustainable goals."

Ghim Li stays close to market demands by regularly visiting clients’ stores, and even stores of the competition. In doing so, it comes to better understand its customers. "We have to step into their shoes when doing work for them," Felicia says.

"We’ve built that trust over the years, and during the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve kept that up through videoconferencing, which has actually allowed us to reduce lead times even further."

It was her mother’s teachings that inspired Felicia to forge the career – and company – she has today. "She always told me we have to think of how to let our customers win," she points out.

"Everything we do has to be centred around their interests and enhancing their value. My team and I follow closely in her footsteps and strive even harder to continue her legacy and take our brand to ever greater heights."

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