The surge in demand for personal protective equipment caused by the COVID-19 crisis caught much of the industry off guard. As masks, gloves and gowns disappeared from shelves at a frenzied rate, companies from entirely unrelated industries rushed to repurpose their operations to make up the shortfall.
Dedicated PPE manufacturers, meanwhile, turned the pandemic into an opportunity to improve what they do best. When, in early January 2020, Thailand became the first country outside of China to endure a case of COVID-19, local rubber gloves specialist Kim Gloves returned to a familiar frontline.
“Our company has always been at the forefront of the battle against bacteria, viruses and dangerous infections,” says Kim Gloves Executive Director and Managing Partner Maxim Sheaib.
“We’ve seen multiple viruses spreading across the globe over the past 20 years, such as SARS, HKU, Zika, MERS, Ebola and the supervillain of all, COVID-19. Throughout, we’ve continued to manufacture latex examination gloves for the healthcare industry and to ensure that our products meet industry requirements.”
Undaunted by the pandemic and driven by a 40-year desire to innovate, Kim Gloves has put Thailand’s high production of natural rubber and top-flight global logistics network to good use in recent times.
“Kim Gloves is one of very few manufacturers around the world to offer an extensive range of latex gloves,” Maxim says. “Our production facilities can produce gloves for almost every single industry you can imagine. We can make gloves that weigh six grams or 300 grams, but no matter the task, we emphasise competitive prices and high standards of quality.”
Originally a single-production line operation when it was founded in 1988, Kim Gloves has expanded to claim 40% of Thailand’s rubber glove market, 50% of South Korea’s industrial glove market and an export network of over 200 clients across more than 50 countries.
“We are a small company compared to the big players in the industry, but our size gives us the feel of a boutique company,” Maxim says. “We can offer personalised services and consistent high-quality products without sacrificing customer service.”
In 2018, Kim Gloves purchased a new factory at Rayong, which enabled the company to produce an even wider variety of products. “Our primary obligation when we purchased this factory was to take care of our existing labour force,” Maxim says. “We brought positive change and optimism to the team, which is in accordance with my personal philosophy of ‘people first’.”
People, Maxim believes, are the driving force of Kim Gloves. “I’m a strong advocate of knowledge and self-development,” he says.
“I believe in developing my team across the spectrum of our trade, to empower them to improve their community and spearhead positive social change.”
Part of this approach stems from Kim Gloves’ owners, the Kim family of South Korea: Joong Ki Kim, better known as ‘JK’, is the company’s CEO and strategic guru, while his sister Yoonhee ‘Carla’ Kim, is Managing Director. “In my experience, JK is one of the best entrepreneurs: genuine and generous,” Maxim says. “Our culture revolves around a harmonious journey in the same direction, and it all drills down from the top.
“Then there’s Chanawat, also known as Nic – the person driving our successes in Thailand. Nic is one of the directors of the company with a strong focus on sales and business development, being the head of our Bangkok office headquarters.”
Sustainability is high among Kim Gloves’ considerations throughout its operations. The company has been awarded Thailand’s Green Industry Level 3 certification, which means Kim Gloves has in place a systematic environmental management program that monitors, assesses and reviews continuous improvements in sustainability.
Additionally, Kim Gloves uses a water-treatment facility to filter the high volumes of water used in the glove manufacturing process. “Our latex gloves are made from natural rubber trees, so our products are entirely biodegradable at the end of their shelf life,” Maxim says. “We ensure our natural rubber latex suppliers are trusted and respected sources in the market.”
In a time when one hand washes the other with needful regularity, Kim Gloves’ supplier network helps the manufacturer facilitate global metacarpal cleanliness. “We value and nurture long-term relationships, and the best way to do so is to employ basic fundamental values of honesty, transparency and ethical business practices,” Maxim says. “As a result, many of our buyers have been with us for years.”
A downside of the PPE shortage, so says Maxim, has been an influx of cowboys bursting onto the scene. “The pandemic caused a surge in demand for PPE. One challenge in a situation like that is the inevitable rise of fraudsters and people who genuinely want a start in the industry but don’t completely understand what they’re getting into,” he says.
“In times like this, it’s up to customers to conduct fair and proper due diligence to preserve a fair market trade.”
Conversely, the other challenges presented by COVID-19 took Maxim to a place where he and the team at Kim Gloves team could flourish. “Every company has its own challenges and I thrive in a challenging environment,” he says. “I’m proud and privileged by the fact our company’s latex gloves contribute to the fight against viruses like COVID-19. Playing a vital role in the protection of human lives is so important to me and every member of the team.”