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MOTIF Talks to Vivek Ramachandran, CEO of Serai

Candid industry expert interviews 

Our latest interview in the “Motif Talks” series is with Vivek Ramachandran, the CEO of Seraia new venture by HSBC, with an ambition to simplify global trade beyond banking that focuses on the apparel industry as its first market.


Guest Introduction

Before Serai, Vivek was the Global Head of Growth & Innovation for HSBC Commercial Banking. He was responsible for coordinating key strategic growth initiatives, exploring new business models and driving the adoption of new technologies. He was also the Global Head of Product for HSBC’s Trade & Receivables Finance business.

Serai, When Transparency and Apparel Meet

M In a nutshelll what is Serai?

V Serai is a new venture by HSBC, with an ambition to simplify global trade beyond banking. We are a digital B2B network where businesses can build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Companies can share information about their business, products and services to create a trusted ecosystem across the supply chain.

Through a single platform, members can access industry business solutions and exchange complex information from multiple data sources to gain visibility into their supply chain. Serai has started with the apparel industry.

M What inspired the name?

V Silk and spices travelled West. Carpets and silver moved East. The Caravanserai were inns along the Silk Road where merchants found a haven to rest, trade goods, exchange knowledge and build relationships. The Serai of that time were an entry point to international trade. We are now building a digital equivalent for today.

M What is the why behind Serai?

V Despite tech-driven improvements in most areas of business, international trade remains as complex today as it was more than 150 years ago. B2B relationships are unfortunately still overly reliant on human interaction and personal networks. The team at HSBC realised that to simplify trade,  we need to look beyond banking. Serai was born from this insight and a big idea –  a data powered platform to help businesses grow and connect globally. Based in Hong Kong, we’re  a groundbreaking  venture with the strength of a global bank and the agility of a start-up. We are here to create solutions to shape the future of international trade.

M Why start with the apparel industry?

V Headquartered in Hong Kong, a key hub for homegrown and Asian apparel manufacturers, the industry was a natural choice. The industry has also been going through a major shift in the last few years, with calls for it to be more sustainable and transparent. It’s an industry which has lagged behind in digitisation. Hence, there was a lot of value a platform like Serai could bring to the industry.

M How do you diferenciate with other existing B2B sourcing platforms?

V Serai is a platform to help businesses build trusted relationships. Sourcing, whilst important, is a very small part of the process of building a trusted relationship. Assessing partners and managing the steady flow of information required to stay on top of business relationships is currently inefficient and largely manual. Serai helps businesses find, connect, interact with and manage business partners.

We help businesses access a range of solutions from leading providers. As our users and their requirements continue to grow, we will continue to add to the range of solutions accessible through our platform.

Serai offers a variety of solutions for apparel companies to manage supply chain traceability and manage trade risk.

M Sustainability is on everyone’s lips in the apparel industry, with initiatives making the headlines often the ones carried out by brands and retailers. Do you find that this translates into a real change in business practices at the manufacturers and suppliers’ level?

V With brands and retailers prioritising sustainability in their supply chain, it’s becoming increasingly important for manufacturers and suppliers to ensure transparency and sustainability in their business practises. Transparency is not a nice-to-have, it is increasingly a must-have, and manufacturers who take the lead will build competitive advantage.

Reassuringly for manufacturers and suppliers looking to embrace the transparency and sustainability demands from the brands, Serai allows them to share information in a safe and simple way. Manufacturers and suppliers retain control of their data/information and determine who they share this data with.

M Serai aims to support more sustainable business practices in the apparel supply chain by providing a traceability solution to its clients. How does that work exactly? What kind of technology is your solution based upon?

V Serai is a network-based solution that allows apparel businesses to track cotton and other raw materials going into their products. Businesses can use the new solution to trace order flow throughout the supply chain, manage supply chain risks and collect data for compliance needs.

Serai helps businesses map upstream suppliers and track environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) commitments.

We work closely with our customers to ensure we capture their traceability data requirements — from the type of data, to format, frequency and more. Depending on the technical setup chosen by the customer, we can help with data management and storage.

We also then work with customers to work with their suppliers as upstream as desired to help ensure consistency and availability in data across the supply chain. Suppliers join a private network on Serai that they can share information via API or direct upload. If a customer wants to include a third party partner in their view of the solution on Serai we ensure visibility to the right data at the right time.

Serai platform
Serai helps businesses build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Companies can share information about their business, products and services on their Serai profile.

M In MOTIF’s global ‘2020 State of Skills in the Apparel Industry’ survey that closed just at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, sustainability practices and strategic sourcing came on top of business priorities. Do you think the Covid-19 crisis has slowed down sustainability efforts in the industry or on the contrary accelerated them?

V COVID-19 has accelerated sustainability efforts in the apparel industry. The pandemic has brought to light many things that were systematically wrong with the industry. Consumers were also spending less and, when they did, preferred purchasing from brands that were socially-responsible.

M A counterintuitive outcome emerged from our 2020 State of Skills survey: while 89% of our respondents ranked sustainability practices as a key business priority, only 38% saw this topic as an important area for training? Have you witnessed any of this discrepancy within your clients? What might explain this surprising discrepancy?

V It is a lot easier to talk about sustainability than it is to do something about it! The early adopters of Serai’s traceability solution are almost by definition the exception to this rule. Brands who genuinely want to understand the raw materials going into their products and the sustainability credentials of their upstream suppliers are working with Serai to put in place a scalable and sustainable solution.

M How do you collaborate with MOTIF?

V Serai is  a platform for the apparel industry, built with the apparel industry. All our development efforts are prioritised based on our clients’ requirements. Serai is an Educational Partner for ReWire: Sustainable 2021 virtual conference organised by MOTIF during which we’re presenting on the Future of Supply Chain Transparency.

To watch the replay, click on the image.

M What do you think are the critical skills that sourcing professionals in the apparel industry should acquire now to future-proof their careers?

V The apparel industry has traditionally not embraced the use of data and technology. Merchandising, relationship management and sharing of samples will become digital. Data analysis will become the basis for decision making, and partner selection will be influenced by algorithms. As the industry continues on this path, new skills will be required. Professionals in the apparel industry must embrace these changes and invest in themselves to lead their organisations through the required transition.

M A resource or interesting piece of content on sustainability you’d recommend our readers to check-out?

V Here are some pieces of content that have been useful for us at Serai:

The UN Sustainable Development Goals
China Water Risk - Research & Intel
Redress - Dress [with] Sense Guide

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