The Indian apparel sector had lost the plot earlier, and missed the chance of emerging as the world's leader in apparel. Rahul Mehta, President of the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), takes a hard look, and suggests 10 ways that the government and industry can ensure that history does not repeat itself.
Why do I ask if India can afford to miss the bus again? Because whether we like it or not, whether the veterans of the industry agree or not-we did miss the bus at the beginning of the 21st century, when the Quotas were disbanded. Both government and industry sat back and waited for the customers to arrive in hordes as the quota restrictions were removed. Unfortunately, they did not. Because neither did the industry plan for the growth, nor did the government review its policies to support such a growth. As a result, China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and others outpaced India-and soon India was playing a catch up game. And it continues to do so today.
So, why are we at the cusp of a great opportunity again? Several factors are unfolding almost simultaneously, all of which could have a tremendous potential for driving a more than robust growth for the apparel industry.
First, the slowing down of Chinese obsession with growth, especially in labour-intensive industries; second, the undeniable movement in Bangladesh for higher wages and greater compliance with safety standards and working conditions; and third, the slower than expected progress in the "alternative" emerging regions such as Myanmar and Africa. All these will provide the exporting sector an impetus it has not seen for some time.
But to my mind, an even greater opportunity lies for an explosive growth in the domestic sector. Rapid urbanisation, a growing middle class, amazingly favourable demographics, enviable growth rate of incomes, an increasing exposure to international lifestyle and trends, and a general sense of positivity in the population-all combine to create a platform for takeoff which comes rarely to an industry.
The question is, will industry take advantage of these environmental factors and actually "take off"? Will the government seize this opportunity and look beyond the traditional perspectives to provide the industry the supportive platform to take off from?
Of course, only the industry and the government can answer the above questions. But I am going to try and do something difficult. I am attempting a list of 10 decisions, actions, and strategies that I believe will need to be adopted, if India is not to miss the bus again. Some are obvious, some physical, and others purely conceptual.
Both the number and the sequence of my suggestions have their logic. The fact that I have listed six steps for industry and four for the government, indicates clearly my view that whilst the government will have its responsibilities and will need to support industry, the greater onus lies with industry. Second, the fact that I have listed what industry needs to do before listing what the government needs to do also signifies that the first steps will need to be taken by industry. Again, sitting back and hoping that the government will make things easier will be foolish and futile.