The Pivot Series – manufacturer and retailer – Bortex

Monique Chambers spoke to Sam Borg of Bortex regarding mice, elephants and gazelles, the company’s local and international operations and how they adapted during the Covid crisis.

Bortex is a designer, manufacturer and retailer of clothing with a factory in Tunisia delivering 150,000 suits a year for its own brand in Malta and for third-party brands throughout Europe. In Malta the company sells clothing for children, ladies and men under the Bortex fascia. All its Malta outlets also offer a made to measure service from a large selection of fine Italian and English fabrics as well as a full hire service. Internationally its Gagliardi brand offers a complete range of men’s tailoring, casual clothing, footwear and accessories.

“ We knew straight away that business as usual would not be enough to keep our business running. With shops forced to close, we had to turn the crisis into an opportunity. We have an online presence and with the team working remotely and with regular calls we could ensure that customers who wanted to continue shopping could. We quickly learned the crisis was affecting people differently in different countries and wanted to make sure our customers weren’t just being sold to but being communicated with in an open and honest fashion.

This team wasn’t the only one putting in the hours though. As a local company, with a manufacturing capability, we turned to the medical world to see if we could assist with the manufacture of scrubs and masks. This helped us utilise idle capacity and keep staff employed. Of course there were some casualties but as a company, from the top floor to the shop floor, we tried our best to spread the hit.

Clothing is generally a carefully planned business with the manufacturing being months ahead of the product being on the shelves. We had some difficult decisions to make, not knowing the length of this crisis and what season we would resurface in. But we had to get to market quickly to help local hospitals, companies and the community in general.

We had some fabrics in stock and purchased as much locally as we could to make items in accordance with the relevant standards. It quickly became clear that masks for non-medical use would also be required and we were able to add these to our online offer for local and international customers.

This scenario is not over yet. We are still manufacturing medical clothing and, now the factory is set up for this kind of production, we are looking to the rest of Europe to see if we can assist in the same way.”

But this shift in manufacturing wasn’t the only change in operations.

“In a crisis, one is forced to focus the mind on the most pressing issues. We had already started a digital transformation of our business. It had taken a while to convince the whole board and the teams, but this situation provided an opportunity, allowing us all to really see the need, appreciate the urgency and speed up the execution of it.

This step is critical for all retailers. Even locally the balance between high street and online shopping is shifting. We are well established here but we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to offer better communications, virtual appointments for made to measure, experiential content, live Q&As with our customer service teams and other innovations to stay ahead of the pack.

Being a data centric operation and closely in touch with our customers, we have been able to deliver not just clothes, but comradery. It has been important for us to gauge the mood and sentiment and be able to maintain authentic relations with consumers even when they aren’t buying.

Being involved with a couple of committees within the Chamber of Commerce also gave us the support and comradery we needed ourselves at such an unprecedented time.

Ironically, Covid has helped many businesses move forward. We aren’t sailing in clear waters yet, but we realise that being able to react quickly has given us a chance not only to survive but, with a few areas trimmed and a few more buoyant, to thrive. For sure we have learned that going forward we need to do more scenario analysis and have alternative plans ready in case something on a par with this ever happens again.

One thing stands out though. That faced with the unexpected the mice, the smallest businesses, get hit the hardest. The elephants, larger and less agile companies, cannot pivot quickly. It is the gazelles, the mid-size businesses like us, that can react, change direction, minimise the impact and ensure survival.”


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Monique Chambers

Monique started succeed in 2018 and indulge in 2011. She has published two apps; Indulge Me GIFT and Indulge Me FOOD and volume 1 of The Artists Directory - Malta, as well as an audio book, Table 7. A PR and Marketing professional by trade with a Masters in Entrepreneurship, Monique's passion is to promote local talent and Malta in general.