Both national and international brands are prioritising sustainability

Both national and international brands are prioritising sustainability

LNJ Denim is a denim-manufacturing facility established in 2007 under RSWM (the flagship company of $ 1 billion LNJ Bhilwara Group, which is a diversified conglomerate with holdings in textiles, graphite electrodes, power generation, power engineering, consultant and information technology services). LNJ Denim has a manufacturing capacity of 25 million metres of denim fabric annually. It has earned an excellent reputation amongst international and domestic brands as an innovator and a quality supplier of denim fabric. Suketu Shah, CEO, LNJ Denim, provides insights into the present status of the Indian denim sector during his discussion with Divya Shetty. Additionally, he discusses the latest trends shaping the industry.

Knitted denims are currently in vogue. What’s driving this trend and how is RSWM tapping this trend?

Firstly, it’s important to delineate between two distinct categories within the realm of knitted denim. The first category comprises traditional knit fabrics akin to those used in T-shirts and jerseys, while the latter category, known as knitted woven denim, has gained prominence in the market over the past 7-8 years. Knitted woven denim presents a knit appearance but is not strictly a knitted fabric.

Regarding the former category, the market is currently dominated by only a few players, and its growth remains relatively minimal. Conversely, the latter category, exemplified by its precision, innovation, and quality (PIQ) attributes, involves a more intricate weaving process resulting in a distinctive fabric with a unique aesthetic compared to conventional denim. This type of denim has garnered significant favour within the Indian market, with domestic players and national brands alike embracing it. Presently, our product holds a prominent position in this segment, reflecting the preferences of customers and solidifying our leading status within the denim market.

What distinguishable characteristics and advantages do knitted woven denim denims offer?

The unique features of denim represent an ever-evolving aspect of fashion. Over the past four decades, I have observed approximately fifty variations within the denim industry, encompassing alterations in basics, fit, wash, fibres, chemicals, and colours. Unlike woven technology, which has remained relatively stable with traditional weaving patterns, a significant development occurred around a decade ago when a knitted denim look was pioneered by someone at Cone Mills in the United States. Although patented there, this innovation was adopted in India without acknowledgment of the foreign patent. Since then, denim in India has adapted to various climatic conditions, making it a highly versatile fabric capable of absorbing moisture and providing warmth. This adaptability is attributed to its dense weave, characterised by a higher number of picks, resulting in a sturdy fabric with excellent moisture management properties, which is the unique selling proposition of this particular knitted denim fabric.

Are there any other emerging trends in the denim industry and how RSWM leveraging them?

In the current landscape, both RSWM and other mills primarily focus on the domestic market due to on-going wars and subdued export markets in Europe and the US. This shift has led to a significant emphasis on domestic trade and brands within India. Sustainability and colour differentiation have emerged as key concepts in this market. Brands, both national and international, are increasingly prioritising sustainability, while consumers are showing a preference for a wider range of colours beyond traditional blues, such as khakis, different hues of blue, black, beige, and olive green. This shift has led to non-denim products transitioning into denim variants to meet consumer demand.

How has the Indian denim market evolved over the years?

The denim industry is experiencing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 per cent. However, despite a potential manufacturing capacity of 1700 billion metres per annum, actual production has peaked at only 1200 million metres, indicating significant underutilisation of capacity. Furthermore, regional attire preferences across the country, such as dhotis, sarees, salwar suits, etc, have limited denim’s adoption compared to Western or European fashion trends. Nevertheless, denim remains a ubiquitous choice for attire across age groups, with approximately 90per cent of individuals aged 2-45 wearing denim garments. However, challenges persist, particularly in per capita consumption rates, which are comparatively low due to India’s large population and cultural preferences favouring traditional attire like saris. Thus, while denim’s popularity is undeniable, there are on-going challenges in fully integrating it into Indian fashion culture.

Could you provide insights into the current situation of the global denim market? And what are the key challenges and opportunities globally in denim industry?

In each instance of diversity, there exists a potential for growth, as varied functions or subdued markets present opportunities for innovation and development. Regarding the export market, there is currently a gloomy state due to on-going conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq, Ukraine-Russia wars, and challenges in the Red Sea region, hindering efficient dispatch and delivery of goods to customers. This has led to significant increases in costs, such as container fees rising by $ 5,000 per container, placing a considerable burden on suppliers.

Furthermore, despite the challenges in the export sector, domestic market players are intensifying efforts to make the local market more viable. This has resulted in fierce competition, characterised by price wars, product differentiation, and new developments. Among denim manufacturers, those capable of offering superior quality and innovation are leading the market. For instance, our facility engages in daily development of at least four new products out of a total range exceeding 20,000 denim products in our library since our establishment in 2007. This comprehensive product database enables us to swiftly respond to customer requests for specific styles or products. However, it’s noteworthy that only a select few mills in India possess the capability to deliver such customisation and innovation, while others primarily focus on mass-market production at lower price points, often utilising polyester-based materials.

How has consumer preference within the denim industry changed over time, and have there been notable shifts in terms of style, fits, sustainability, or other factors?

Over the years, the denim industry has undergone significant evolution, marked by a multitude of transformations in fabric types, finishes, and consumer preferences. Reflecting on the inception of denim in this country in 1986, I recall pioneering its introduction, a time when comprehensive educational resources on denim were scarce. Our learning was primarily drawn from external sources, as formal institutions were yet to provide structured guidance on the subject. Initially, denim was characterised by its basic composition, typically weighing 14 and a half to 15 and a half ounces per square yard, imparting a substantial feel to garments akin to an additional kilogram of weight. Since then, the landscape has witnessed remarkable diversification, encompassing lighter variants, jeggings tailored for women, stretch denim innovations, multifaceted blends incorporating various fibres, as well as specialised treatments such as water-repellent and discharge-resistant finishes.

The evolution continued with experiments in wool-infused denim, fleeting but notable forays into printed and jacquard designs, which gained prominence in shirts and found application in upholstery and curtain fabrics through select designers and boutique offerings. Presently, the industry is witnessing a shift towards softer denim iterations, characterised by lighter weights, acknowledging consumer preferences veering away from overly heavy denim. Additionally, there is a burgeoning interest in knitted denim aesthetics, featuring higher weights, representing a contrasting trend in the marketplace.

Regarding fitment, each brand has established its distinct identity through unique sizing, cutting patterns, and washing techniques. A consumer’s affinity towards a particular brand often hinges on the compatibility of its fit with their body type. Consequently, brand loyalty, once a prevalent force, is now subject to scrutiny, as consumers prioritise fit and comfort over longstanding allegiances.

Could you elaborate on the latest offerings or innovations being introduced by RSWM?

Each year, we introduce two collections: one for Autumn/Winter and one for Spring/Summer. Recently, our Autumn/Winter ’25 collection was launched in February during the Gartex event in Mumbai, coinciding with the commencement of the new year. Subsequently, we showcased our collection at Denim and Jeans in Japan, emphasising a sustainable approach. As RSWM, with LNJ Denim under our umbrella, we are steadfastly committed to sustainability. This commitment is evident in various aspects of our operations, such as transitioning to biofuel boilers for power generation and harnessing 32 MW of solar energy capacity across our facilities. A significant investment of approximately Rs 35 crore is being allocated towards the transformation of all six boilers to biofuel, aligning with impending regulations mandating the discontinuation of coal-based boilers by 2025. By proactively embracing these changes, we aim to position ourselves as a leading sustainable entity within the industry.

The global fashion landscape increasingly prioritises sustainability, a value upheld more profoundly in European and American markets compared to India. While our nation is gradually embracing this ethos, there remains a perceptible gap in mindset. To bridge this divergence, continued efforts and education are essential, recognising the imperative of environmental stewardship. Our initiatives include recycling used garments through proprietary machinery, integrating resulting fibres with cotton at a 20per cent ratio, thus contributing to a circular economy. Notably, our adherence to sustainable practices has garnered recognition from esteemed brands like H&M, evidenced by their accreditation of our laboratory facilities. This accreditation streamlines processes, enabling self-clearance of goods and fostering trust and efficiency in our partnerships with brands such as Levi’s, Wrangler, and Zara ultimately enhancing customer relations and industry standing.

Lastly, what are the company’s future plans?

In the fiscal year 2021-2022, our company experienced a substantial growth of approximately 8-9 million metres, expanding our annual capability from 25 million to 33.5 million meters. Notably, we have effectively utilised 95per cent of our capacity during this period, a significant advantage compared to other industry players who are currently operating at levels ranging from 50per cent to 70per cent due to market downturns.

This advantageous position can be attributed to our steadfast adherence to policies, unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction, exemplary service standards, and continuous product innovation initiatives. Despite facing challenges such as fluctuating cotton prices, which surged to Rs 1,00,000 per candy post-COVID but have now stabilised around Rs 58,000-60,000, we have observed a notable improvement in market conditions compared to previous periods.

However, as we approach forthcoming elections and contend with issues like liquidity constraints, the market sentiment appears somewhat subdued. Nonetheless, we are optimistic about our ability to navigate these challenges and anticipate a resurgence in the near future, particularly as we position ourselves for expansion into garmenting units.

Our future plans include potential expansion initiatives, albeit perhaps deferred by approximately a year as we carefully consider the strategic continuity of our product offerings. Our overarching goal is to streamline the consumer experience by offering end-to-end solutions, wherein customers interact with a singular entity for their garment needs, as opposed to dealing with multiple intermediaries.

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