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Indian knitwear industry: A promising market of future

May 01, 2021
Indian knitwear industry: A promising market of future

The growing popularity of comfort wear among the young Indian population in the recent years has prompted many textile companies to expand their knitwear range. Covid 19 pandemic has had tremendous impact on the clothing and apparels segment with many people being forced to work-from-home (WFH). As result people started preferring comfort over fashion; thus, further increasing demand for comfort wear (i.e knitted apparels). “Pandemic has changed the world of fashion with ‘casualisation’ trend driving knits demand,” observes Abhay Sidham, CEO, Batliboi Textile Machinery Group, which represents Mayer & Cie - a leading global player in circular knitting machines.

Concurring the same, Vinod Kumar Gupta, Managing Director, Dollar Industries Ltd, says, “As casualisation trends are picking up momentum, the knitwear industry has been constantly registering a significant upsurge. As per reports in 2018, the knitwear market is expected to grow at a promising rate of 9 percent over the next decade to reach Rs 161,700 crore. Key segments of knitwear industry are innerwear, T-shirts, winter wear, knitted bottom-wear, and sleepwear.”

Companies claim that knitted fabrics are more flexible, compliant and comfortable than woven fabrics. “Knitwear fabrics are known for the comfort they provide, moisture absorption, stretch, easy care, etc. The conversion of need based clothing to occasion wear has resulted in the emergence of new categories such as gym wear, yoga wear, etc, which is going to increase the demand of knitwear in the near future. In knitted garments, style as well as designs can be easily altered which is not possible in woven garments. The knitwear garments not only offer comfort but also are visually appealing and brings a greater-degree of versatility to the wardrobe” explains Gupta.

According to Akhil Jain, Executive Director, Madame (the Gurugram-headquartered fashion brand), despite the pandemic, casuals and night suits witnessed similar consumer demands for styles which fall under the knitwear category. “Nowadays knitwear is being considered to be more appealing and attractive as compared to earlier times,” he adds.

Fulfilling the fashion trends
In line with the rapid growth in this sector, brands have strengthened their capacity-building strategies significantly in terms of quality, vertical integration, pricing, and technological innovations. “Knitwear is quite versatile. The preferences of newer generations are evolving and knitwear is now being considered as comfort clothing with the ease of wearing it formally or casually depending on the place and mood. The basic advantage of knitwear garments is that they are maintenance-free, comfortable, and fashionable as compared to other apparel,” opines Jain.

Innovation has been a key element for the development of the knitting segment. It has evolved from manual hand flat knitting machines for winter wear to a fully automatic computerised technique. Jain explains, “The most proven & productive techniques in the knitting industry are circular knitting. Various companies are now devising modern & highly efficient machines that cater to already produced fabrics through technological designs and processes. The circular knitting technology helps in increasing production through high-speed machines that matches the quality of the fabric. Technically, knitted apparels have a higher value addition and a better fit compared to cut and sew apparel.”

According to C Kamatchisundaram, Vice President - Textile Machinery Division, Voltas Ltd, the Indian knitting industry is revolutionising in terms of technology adoption as manufacturers seek to increase production, improve quality of the output and at lesser costs. “The importers across the globe have started looking at India as a source not only for simple cotton-based garments made from circular knitted fabric but also for advanced technology fashion driven garments including whole garments made from computerised flat knitting machinery. Our country is also building capabilities to export athleisure and sports garments. In sync with this, we have partnered reputable organisations to provide enhanced solutions,” he informs. Voltas’ Textile Machinery Division represents Terrot for circular knitting and Shima Seiki for computerised flat knitting machine in India. Both are global leaders in their respective segments. While Shima Seiki is globally known for its flat knitting technology, Terrot has the capability to offer the entire range of circular knitting machines - single jersey, double jersey and machines meant for technical applications.

Kamatchisundaram states, “Flat knitting technology is relatively new for the Indian textile industry. These machines were used to make winter sweaters/ collars in the past. Shima Seiki from Japan has taken flat knitting to the next level. It is identified more as a machine for creating high fashion garments. Shima Seiki offers various models in the flat knitting itself, which enables the customers to make panels with endless possibilities of design.”

In addition, Shima Seiki is the first to offer the whole-garment making machinery for the industry. “As you know, the garment is made by cutting and stitching, and it calls for a lot of labour. The whole garment machine eliminates the usage of these processes. This garment is made directly from the yarn from endless number of designs and colours. Even the design of the buyer can be adopted in the machine very easily and quickly. The latest trend is to make sports shoes with textiles on top. Shima Seiki is the only machine which can seamlessly make the required shoe upper directly from the yarn without any cutting and stitching,” claims Kamatchisundaram.

Covid effect
During the first wave of Covid 19 pandemic last year, textile industry (including knitwear sector) witnessed a slump in demand. However, situation started improving the second half of 2020-21. Dollar Industries’ Vinod Kumar Gupta elaborates, “During the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, we witnessed a temporary dent in our operations. With the nationwide lockdown and Government restrictions, there was a demand supply gap. However, with the restrictions being uplifted, we saw a surge in demand for our products and a growth in our sales figures. In addition to our brick-and-mortar store, we ventured into online sales via major e-commerce portals, which resulted in a commendable growth in our online sales.” Currently, Dollar Industries is focusing on digital process implementation or upgradation of its internal digital platforms to smoothen its operations. The company is focusing on areas like Distribution Management system (DMS); Sales force automation system; auto replenishment system; and moving to SAP.

Crossing the technology barriers
While domestic and overseas markets offer huge potential for growth, Indian knitwear makers will have to overcome many hurdles to tap these opportunities. Lack of raw material availability and high-tech technology tops the challenge list. “The key challenge faced in India is the marginal availability of raw materials and lack of expeditious innovation. Although the segment is evolving, in comparison to international markets, we lack technology as an investment in advanced machines is often cost-intensive. The competitive market also poses a threat for entrepreneurs in this category. Consumers are exposed to innumerable choices and designs which leads to competitive pricing among the players in the market with quality compromises,” comments Akhil Jain.

Local brands often cater to smaller geographies with narrow margins and stiff competition. Innovation comes with a price and investment in labour which always has an additional cost attached to it. According to Jain, the only way to bail out of this situation is through adequate investments in automation. “Technological gaps in comparison with international standards have led various Indian players to step back in facing larger challenges and mitigating risks associated with such disadvantages,” he says.

The knitting industry is driven by integrated capacities and investing in technology continues to be frontrunners in this segment. Vinod Kumar Gupta believes that Indian industry should adopt lean manufacturing systems and technological upgradations to remain globally competitive. “Government must implement the Amended Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme (ATUFS) to promote ease of doing business in the country and achieve the vision of generating employment and promoting exports by way of technology upgradation in textile sector through Make in India with ‘Zero effect and Zero defect’,” he observes.

Some knitwear makers have already started their modernisation journey to compete globally. For example, Madame has a base of over 60 CAD enabled flat knitting machines from Japan and Germany which produce top quality products in terms of design and techniques both. “As a company we have a knack to upgrade technology as and when available. Next in the pipeline, is full-fashion in seamless products,” elaborates Akhil Jain.

Outlook for knitwear
Though small, the knitwear segment is a rapidly growing segment in the fashion industry. Madame’s Akhil Jain opines, “Knitwear is high in demand, particularly where the climate is cold and India has considerable states and cities where the consumer demand for knitted apparel is significant. Customers are opting for pop colours, abstract patterns, and quick-dry fabric that is unfolding as the latest trendsetters. Pullover and cardigans are made of soft knits and are preferred by most age groups. Oversized cardigans are also playing a huge role in converting the latest trends.”

India has highest young population in world, who prefer more casual wear then formals at workplace. With health awareness increasing demand for sportswear is likely to witness manifold increase. “We believe that the knitwear industry will be witnessing a surge in demand in the coming years. Innerwear and athleisure will be the key segments that will witness a spike in sales. With the pandemic and the ‘Work from Home’ trend, athleisure has gained immense popularity among consumers. We will soon be entering the brassiere category as well,” informs Vinod Kumar Gupta of Dollar Industries.

Along with domestic market, exports will offer huge opportunity for growth for Indian knitwear makers as the global apparel brands seek to look for alternate suppliers. “Due to sizeable domestic market and huge export opportunities, phenomenal growth is expected in the knitwear segment. We are confident of massive opportunities for Indian knitting industry. With current geo political situation, supply chain disruption and uncertainties over investments in China, India is certain to regain its pole position in the world of textiles. Consequently, machines with modern technology, higher productivity and reliability will have excellent potential,” opines Abhay Sidham of Batliboi Textile Machinery Group.

Attracting global players
As demand for knitwear grows, the demand for automated machinery and solutions will also increase in India. “An increasing number of organisations are seeking technologically advanced machinery to improve production efficiency and reduce wastage. There is also a huge need for incorporating sustainability by totally eliminating wastage not only in the manufacturing process but also from the shelves of the retailers,” says Kamatchisundaram.

According to him, the whole garment machinery from Shima Seiki is a good solution for meeting both the needs as a) it makes the garment directly from the yarn totally eliminating the wastage of fabrics during the cutting process and b) it enables to manufacture the desired garments at the shortest possible time in line with the market trend thus avoiding wastage of garments produced but not sold from the shelves of the retailers. “We anticipate that the adoption of this technology would accelerate in future due to tremendous benefits offered towards sustainable manufacturing process,” opines Kamatchisundaram.

With the Government of India identifying textiles as one of the key pillars to achieve its ambitious target of reaching $ 5 trillion economy, the industry expects more positive steps from the government to give a boost to the sector. “The India textile industry, with the backing of a strong and stable political and social environment, and being a key supply based for the global markets, has been improving quickly in terms of product quality, consistency and delivery accuracy. The knitting industry is changing dynamically and growing at a very fast pace. Manufacturers have become more specific with their needs and requirements and better knowledge and idea of the product,” says B C Teoh, Sales Director, United Texmac Pte Ltd (Unitex) - the Singapore-based manufacturer of high precision circular knitting machines.

Burgeoning knitwear market and the need for technological advanced machinery have prompted many global players to scale up their offerings in India. “We are trying to penetrate into more Indian cities where the textile market has good potential and will be glooming in near future. As such for the lower end segments, such as the Ludhiana and Surat markets are growing rapidly, we are gaining market shares by offering a few more economical machine models to fulfil their demand. Unitex machines will continue to incorporate more automation and electronic control and monitoring features,” informs Teoh.

Looking at the demand trends for knitwear in the near future, the flat knitting technology is like to witness better growth than the other segments with knitting machinery market. “The China plus one strategy adopted by the importing countries is expected to accelerate growth in demand for both circular knitted and flat knitting technologies. While growth in circular knitting technology would be driven by increasing needs for leisure wear and active wear products, the growth in flat knitting technology would be driven by the fashion needs of the youngsters. Hence circular knitting technology would have a steady growth but flat knitting technology would have an accelerated growth. The growth in both sectors would be driven by both domestic and export markets,” observes Kamatchisundaram.