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India at the forefront of global interest, but Apparel Industry neglected

by Deepak Mohindra

05-August-2019  |  5 mins read

AOI 1-15 aug

It really gives me a great sense of pride to be an Indian, especially today when the country is among the most talked-about and respected economies of the world. There is interest in everything Indian, from culture to technology!

I am sure every Indian’s heart missed a beat when the countdown for take-off of Chandrayaan-2 was in progress. And the feeling of overwhelming happiness filled the same heart when it successfully took off to the moon.

India is no doubt passing through one of the best phases of its growth journey as a nation, but can we say the same for the textile and garment industry?

I am sure there are different views on this and while many may argue that things are looking up and the situation is not as bleak as many would like to believe, but the reality is that this very old and traditional industry is past its glorious years.

Even the much hyped ‘Make in India’ slogan has not really added any edge to this industry. In fact, some leading exporters have even decided to take their factories out of the country citing lack of competitiveness as the major problem. When my team or for that matter myself, travel to other countries, one of the biggest compliments that we receive is that the Indian textile value chain is one of the strongest from farm to shelf, with the exception of China.

There is a seamless integration from raw materials to conversion. And added to this is the value addition and product development skills that are available in the country. The numerous handcrafted clusters and design institutes work in synergy to develop new concepts and keep the international buyers hooked to Indian ‘value-adds’, something no other country, not even China, can boast of. Many also talk about how India has the best middle management structure and while most production professionals come from Sri Lanka and washing technologists from Turkey, almost every manufacturing country in the world has hired merchandising and PD professionals from India. People are of the view ‘Indians are intelligent and good communicators’ – these are the two key skills that a strong middle management requires.

Yet, despite all these positives, India has not been able to capitalise on these strengths and grow consistently. For the last few years, Indian textile industry and apparel segment in particular has stagnated. No noteworthy growth has been registered.

Look at Vietnam! The country has crossed Bangladesh in garment exports and they are struggling to be integrated, not to mention their limited manpower resources. Bangladesh of course is a case study on how, low cost advantage has shaped the industry to become a very strong manufacturing base; this cannot be ignored even if the cost has now gone up.

So, why is India struggling?

Of course, there are many reasons and they are well-documented, but the challenge is much more than just competitiveness and it is time we acknowledged that! Well for one, there are too many other lucrative options for the younger generations that does not involve handling a large number of workers or listening to buyers who are constantly raising the bar in terms of the definition of a preferred supplier. I often hear from my friends in the industry that the next generation wants to opt out, moving towards retail, hospitality and even unique customer – related start-ups. As an industry we need to keep the youngsters interested and involved, but ‘how’ is the real questions. With the Government also encouraging new start-ups, doing something different is attracting a lot of talent. Maybe it will help if we keep them within the confines of the textile value chain, even with their start-ups.

If the industry gets a new age face lift with fashion technology playing a role in creating a fresh image, I am hopeful that young talent will flow over the entire value chain and manufacturing too will benefit!

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