In ancient times, India held the monopoly in manufacturing cotton textiles. Fibre2Fashion looks at the country's global textile exports where India is still a force to reckon with.


For about 3,000 years from 1500 BC to 1500 AD, India had the monopoly in manufacturing cotton textiles.


India has a rich regional textile tradition. That can be traced as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation. Records of ancient Indian textile traditions exist mostly in literature and in sculptures. So, there is archaeological evidence of cotton textile at Mohenjo Daro in the Indus Valley around 3000 BC. People used homespun cotton. Needles made of wood and bones have been found in Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. This signifies that cotton was being spun at home to make yarn and garments in those ancient times.


In the Rig Veda, there is evidence regarding Indian textiles and carpet weaving. Even the Ramayana and the Mahabharata mention different types of fabrics. Apparel worn by aristocrats is often mentioned in the Ramayana. However, the method of producing textiles differed from those used today. Cotton production and its trade linked the different regions of India. The country's silk was also popular. It was fashionable in Rome. During the Middle Ages, there was huge demand for Indian cotton textiles in east Asian and European markets. Indian textiles were more important to Dutch and the English than to the Portuguese.


With the advent of technology, there has been huge development in cotton production. Yet, traditional fabrics continue to be in demand. So, original concepts are being combined with innovation and technological developments. India is a major garment exporter. That has contributed to the economic development of the nation. Despite advancements in technology, in many areas the textile industry respects traditional methods. So, the government has put in place policies for the small scale sector. This in turn decentralises both traditional and modern aspects of fabric design.


For centuries, India has used traditional ways to manufacture cotton and garments. After agriculture, it is our textile industry which has provided vast employment opportunities for both skilled and unskilled labour. Hence, the textile industry can be considered the second in employment generation with over 36 million workers today.

Laying it out

In the 16th century, Mughal emperors brought carpet weaving to India. It is said that Babur was disappointed with the rugs he found in India. He missed the luxury of the Persian carpet. Yet, it was Akbar who, in 1520 AD, brought in carpet weavers from Persia to teach prisoners the art of weaving and designing carpets. Those carpets were made only for royalty to lay out in palaces or give as gifts. Since there was no shortage of money and labour, it often took around 15 years to finish a single carpet. The jails of Agra, Lahore and Bikaner became centres of carpet excellence.

Shah Jahan, like his grandfather Akbar, had an eye for artistry and was fond of architecture. Despite prevailing Persian carpet patterns, his patronage encouraged Indian designs. These included scenic, animal carpets for the lattice work of architecture. Some of the carpets, shawls and other textiles made in India since then are prepared from knotted wool. Though the patterns are predominantly Persian, they also have plants and animals.


The most glorious Indian fabric was the Kinkhab or brocade, still in high demand because of its versatility in making both male and female outfits. The literal meaning of Kinkhab is, fewer dreams and its texture makes it more attractive. It is woven out of gold plated silver threads creating an expensive and rich fabric. Hence, the apparel made from such material is used for occasions such as weddings and religious functions. This fabric personified the refined taste of the Mughals.


In the 19th century, Kashmiri shawls were considered the ideal gift for a woman and continues to bring accolades to India. These woolen shawls were woven and even exported to Rome. Cotton fabric and other related material were exported to China through the Silk Route.


The development of the textile industry in India progressed continuously until World War I in 1914. This gave rise to the development of textile firms in India. India is known for its textile good since ancient times but modern textile was born in early 19th century after the establishment of the first mill in Kolkata. After Independence, the cotton textile industry made rapid growth plans with more spindles (Lal, 2006).


Yesterday and Today

The textile and handloom industry has several links to the past including motifs, designs and patterns. Surat, one of the oldest centres of trade in cotton textile, still exports globally. Although changes were inevitable in the textile industry after the innovation of machines, certain traditions continue unchallenged. The Patola design is still created the age-old way, for instance, since particular tools are needed to do so.

Different forms of textiles are used for different traditional occasions. Traditional fabrics have been widely accepted and are still in demand because traditional patterns and imprints are popular, even if they are expensive. Thus, the original concept continues, even as it provides space for innovation and development.


Technology has empowered the textile industry to meet demand for all types of fabrics and meet exacting timelines.


Innovation in the textile industry gave rise to export and import of textile. India may have seen lower volumes but according to the International Research Institute, China and India are two major garment exporters. This has contributed to country's economy.


The textile industry is considered a means for cultural studies due to its universality.


Textile industry now

As per FICCI's statement, the cottage industry segment currently engages approximately six million farmers besides associating with around 40-50 million people. These people perform activities relating to the cultivation, processing and trading of cotton. At the domestic level, the industry is built with 1608 spinning and 200 composite wheels, with the installed capacity of 35.61 million spindles, 448000 open-end rotors and 69000 looms in organized sector.


Despite the qualitative transformation in cotton production since independence, India is yet far behind many countries like the USA and China. The main cause for such slow growth is that 65 per cent area under cotton production is rain-fed and the rains can play truant. But innovations and developments have been filling up this gap to some extent.


Despite China being the largest apparel exporting nation, it is facing a major obstacle in producing high quality textile and imports high quality textile annually. China and India have been exporting modern fabrics that does not need much processing and is thus less expensive. The USA and European countries process and sell them again at high rates to China. Chinese firms compete with the low-end market and produce more fabric to remain the largest manufacturer in the textile industry. Thus, most manufacturing firms rely on their Research and Development department for predicting market trends and to stay on in the market. Innovations in engineering and Information Technology have proven advantageous.


Government policies

In spite of the advancement in technology, the textile industry is still stressing on traditional methods for several styles. Some companies still use traditional block printing. This implies that the textile industry continues to be a source of employment. Weavers and handloom workers have led to the growth of the Indian textile industry.


Thus, the government has framed certain policies for the small scale sector. This decentralises both the traditional and modern verticals. The Indian textile market has been growing, drawing foreign investors. The Indian textile industry has set a benchmark for better growth that is sustained by strong domestic consumption and export demand.


One noteworthy change is the development of man-made fibre and India is the only such country that placed its innovation on global platform with rest of the textile firms. Cotton production is one of the most significant business in this regard with the ultimate production of more than 80 per cent every year. This has registered a rise of 12 percent in total production of the textile industry. Investment has been increasing to keep pace with innovation. Hence, recent growth in investment has been encouraging.


There are certain factors affecting the textile industry while modernizing the business processes. Multi Fibre Agreement is one such factor that suspended all the arrangements which had been overriding the cotton textile trade since 1961. Main reason to implement such an act is to expand the trade ratio among different nations across the globe and to lessen the liberalization progress of trading the textile products.

The textile industry has been growing by implementing both modern and traditional concepts. The Indian government, with certain textile policies, is playing a vital role in its spread across the globe.



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