Textile manufacturing in India: A legacy, building the future of industry

Textile manufacturing in India: A legacy, building the future of industry

The pandemic has brought about major changes across the globe. This health crisis has affected all across, manufacturing and textiles included. Volatility has become a synonym for market. However, there is a bright side to every challenge.

The Indian textile industry, in FY2019-20, contributed approximately 2.3 per cent to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 12 per cent to India’s Export Earnings. (Source – Indian Brand Equity Foundation). Despite 2020 being a year of uncertainties, it was agriculture and manufacturing which played the most crucial role in coping with the economic slowdown. Understanding the potential, the government also called out for supporting Indian manufacturers and promoting goods manufactured in the country through initiatives like ‘Vocal for Local’ and ‘Aatmnirbhar Bharat’. These initiatives are broadly indicating towards the stress government has put on making India a preferred partner for manufacturing.

Emphasising particularly on textiles, with shifting preferences and anticipated movement of customers from major economies, India has a great potential to become a global textile hub. Firstly, textile manufacturing dates back to ancient India. Secondly, we have the largest population of youth i.e. trainable and untapped human potential that certainly is the biggest of all strengths. Thirdly, we have a huge production capacity in the country, the raw material is available in abundance and the import content is substantially low. 

India has a high level of self-sufficiency in the availability of cotton fibre at competitive prices. Manmade fibre like polyester, viscose etc. is also available. However, these being relatively expensive tend to curb consumption. India is also the major spun cotton yarn exporter in the world, well placed internationally in terms of scale and technology.

Other factors that contribute to the textile industry 

If we break down the industry into its major components, based on the steps from sourcing to the final product, the influencing factors are numerous, including raw material, technology & manufacturing process, supply chain, sustainability, government policies & export laws, demand & market conditions, innovation & development etc. 

Sourcing right is the first step towards a robust supply chain. It is the raw material which is the first ingredient in the recipe of success for textile industry. Besides the cost of skilled and unskilled workforce, the rapid changes in the raw material price heavily impact the manufacturer. 

The growing emphasis on sustainability is another major change maker. Reputed brands do not wish to work with organisations having a high carbon footprint. Over the last decade, we have seen a sharp rise in demand for organic, recycled and sustainable textile products. While functional fabrics and yarns also form a component of demand, the highly aware modern-day consumer does question the impact his/her choices will have on the planet. 

Even though the thrust on sustainability could be a market influencer, it is primarily a responsibility we all have towards the planet. We need to work on reducing emissions, using green energy, minimising reliance on conventional energy, and switch to greener processes, cost-effective and eco-friendly textile solutions. 

It is crucial to strategise and place the Indian textile industry in sync with global demand and emerging trends. The shift towards sustainable, organic and recycled products is evident of the change in customer outlook. ‘Greener solutions’ is a conscious choice and younger generations are particularly specific about it. From raw material to processes to technology, there’s a huge room for improvement, the principle of reduce, reuse and recycle included.

Not to undermine the importance of quality, it should be noted that there was a time when the Indian textile industry faced challenges in serving the global quality-conscious markets. Spinning has always been a stronger aspect for Indian manufacturers and with consistent efforts, the quality across weaving and processing has also been well-established. We have come a long way in delivering quality products, creating a distinction for Indian textiles but there are miles to go. Bringing in newer and most advanced technology is a major requirement to keep the industry at par with the global standards of quality. 

Considering the global share of textile manufacturing and exports, and the underlying potential; for India to become a preferred source for the international market, each and every constituent of industry shall have to be strongly placed. The role of technology and hand-holding the industry to help achieve sustainability goals is what will matter the most in this direction.   

The supply chain is also a major contributor to the development of industry and a smarter, more robust mechanism shall aid growth. Support from the administration will also play a crucial role. The compliances, policies, norms formed for the industry should be motivating for the investors, manufacturers, entrepreneurs and the entire supply chain. Trade barriers, market uncertainty, geopolitics, macroeconomic strain in emerging markets lead to restrained growth. Hence, these should be addressed positively to augment growth.  

Impact of COVID

The pandemic has brought about major changes across the globe. This health crisis has affected all across, manufacturing and textiles included. Volatility has become a synonym for market and the impact is likely to last longer than anticipated initially. However, there is a bright side to every challenge. 

With an all-time high demand for protective clothing, technical textile has caught the limelight. Textile industry has shown an increased focus on developing products for medical applications. Notably, in the pre-covid phase, India was importing PPE kits. Adaptability and flexibility of the Indian textile manufacturers can be easily validated by the fact that India achieved the figure of manufacturing over 2 lakh PPE kits daily within 2 months of the onset of coronavirus pandemic while prior to that no PPE kits were manufactured in the country. This endeavour not only is appreciable but also gives a strong reason why the Indian Textile industry deserves to become a global hub. 

Besides PPE kits, manufacturing of masks were done at war level, companies ventured into developing protective fabrics which had anti-microbial properties, special fabrics for safety during travel were developed. The umbrella of functional fabrics became wider, covering anti-wrinkle, spill-resistant fabrics as also specially crafted breathable fabrics for facemasks. Technological advancements in textile industry are generally crafted for automation and operational excellence. However, digitalisation not only became a priority but a necessity during the coronavirus pandemic. 

With remote mode of working the only viable choice, companies shifted to digital solutions at a pace far greater than that we observe in normal times. Lack of physical proximity which appeared a challenge initially, gradually became an opportunity to save time, cost of travel and add convenience. Solutions were identified to communicate with customers, give factory tours, showcase products and do everything that was normally performed, but through technology and virtual modes of communication. Methods were also identified to give an understanding of hand feel, textures, exact colour and drape of fabric etc. to the customers, something that is otherwise best done physically. 

Not just the officers, working of factory employees were also restructured. Revised compliance checklists and policies were crafted; safety protocols re-examined and updated, emphasis on employee safety and engagement was addressed in particular. Coronavirus pandemic did bring attention to the fact that it is human life which is of prime importance. Focus on relationships and health remained a positive outcome despite the hiccup we faced.    

Post-covid growth strategies for companies

Recovery begins when one decides to look for solutions and stand tall in the face of challenges. We have seen a recovery in terms of production while the consumption-wise improvement will take some time to come to surface. As a third-generation entrepreneur, a major learning I have made is that one should grow its roots so strong that in the times of adversity, there’s enough ground for you to hold on to. The value system, the relationships you have nurtured, the goodwill you have achieved by continuously delivering customer satisfaction and meeting commitments despite the hurdles are what will keep you stable and strong during such times. 

In business, for an entrepreneur, it is the vision which matters the most. A far-sighted approach is a powerful enabler. A business decision should never be based on an immediate return but considering the long term impact. Be it the new normal or the real normal, a company’s growth strategy should be a perfect mix of short term and long term goals. 

The importance of human capital need not be over-emphasized. While making the plans is crucial, implementing them to organisation’s advantage is possible only through an inspired and dedicated team. I firmly believe that if there’s a problem, there has to be a solution. Situations change but the intrinsic strength of an organisation always helps in sailing through the storm.  

In the post-covid scenario, the first and foremost attention should be on innovation. Innovation and New Product development are certainly the most vital components of growth in the VUCA world of textiles. And when life changed, lifestyle changed, the meaning of normal changed for one and all, there of course is a need to offer products and solutions that are relevant to current times. 

A wide product range with flexibility of customisation at any stage of production is a major strength as the proverb “change is the only constant” is nowhere truer than the textile industry. Research and development are the saviours, there is a constant need to widen the product basket, enhance functionality, maintain quality, bring in customisation, and diversify the range. Textiles and fashion industry being integral, offering “something new” never goes out of style. 

An important aspect for consideration is the response time. The customers always prefer to work with organisations that are agile, can efficiently respond to change and have a robust supply chain. This is done via two modes. Firstly, at the organisational level, the opportunities and possibilities need to be identified. Through automation, proactive adaption to change and continuous innovation. Industry will have to work towards establishing itself as a strong player globally. Secondly, the policies for exports which are developed by the government need to be supportive. Industry and administration will have to work together to achieve the goal of making India a global textile hub. 

Economic sustainability is something that is very much affected by external factors as much as the internal ones. Market conditions are always unpredictable, never stagnant. You can see a rise and a decline within the blink of an eye but it is the system we build, the pillars of strength we invest on, which pay back in tough times like COVID-19. 

I wholeheartedly welcome the initiatives being taken to strengthen India’s position as a globally preferred partner for textile industry. And I am positive that with all the contributing factors, a high growth trajectory can be created.

About the author: 

Suchita Oswal Jain is the Vice Chairman and Joint Managing Director of Vardhman Textiles. A third-generation entrepreneur and an able custodian of the family business, she is associated with the group for about 20 years. Jain is the winner of AsiaOne’s Women Empowerment Entrepreneur Award 2019-20 and India CSR Leadership Award 2021. 

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