The apparel retailing segment is seeing a new wave of opportunities that is technologically-driven. Among these, print-on-demand seems to be a game-changer, writer Senthil Kumar.

India has a long and illustrious history in textile manufacturing. Every region in the country has its own signature manufacturing method and design style. This has resulted in a myriad of artwork and fabric specific and suited to that region. The sari was the versatile garment at the centre of all this creativity and still continues to rule in terms of innovation and consumption. With the advent of British in India, western garments found their way into common use. Garments like pants, shirts, skirts, tops and the versatile and ubiquitous t-shirts are now worn and preferred for both formal and casual occasions.

Marketing and consumption of garments has kept pace with the development in manufacturing. Before the British, textile manufacturing was done locally and marketed locally as well. Only the very rich could afford to obtain garments from other places in India. Transportation was risky and cumbersome.

Industrial revolution and manufacturing

The Industrial Revolution ushered in by the British found its way to India too. Textile mills were set up and largescale manufacturing was taken up to cater to the demands of the British. These practices influenced the Indians too and more people chose to wear western clothes. The railways and roads set up by the British played their part in transporting these goods to wider areas and the demand began to ramp up. Mechanisation in turn reduced costs and resulted in standardisation of quality, and garment manufacturing greatly cut down the dependency on people for routine work.

But even with all these developments, the network of manufacturers, distributors and shops remained unshaken and all garments were sold through brick-and-mortar shops. Transportation was faster, and public were able to look at more variety and style in garments through advertisements in print and television, but they still had to go to the shop to buy.

Influence of digital on manufacturing

The digital revolution has been a game-changer. From manufacturing to marketing, it has revolutionised the garment and textiles business. Digital technology could even assimilate the skills that only humans had and streamlined the process. The benefits, both direct and indirect, were many. Let us look at it from the view of t-shirts and how their market and manufacturing ushered in a boom.

# Manufacturing process:

The manufacturing process has undergone a complete change. Now, we have computer-controlled machines managing quality and production in knitting, dyeing and printing.

1.  Knitting: The quality of knitting has improved tremendously along with the output. The pattern cutting, collar and ribs all are controlled by digital machines and have resulted in high accuracy. The digital format also standardises sizes; so, portability and choice of manufacturers are wider.

2. Dyeing: Dyeing is an ecologically-sensitive process. The old methods of dyeing and letting out untreated effluents have been replaced with effluent treatment plans being mandatory and there are stringent quality checks on the water let out. Community plants and methods like air dyeing help reduce the ecological impact greatly.

     3. Printing: This is where the digital footprint is the largest. It has enhanced already popular methods like screen printing and  introduced newer printing methods like direct-to-garment (DTG) printing.

Screen printing is the time-tested method for accurate reproduction of prints. But it is costly and was done manually. So, it wasn't useful for large batches where the design remained the same. Each colour in the design requires a separate screen which are costly to make and can affect profit margins. Execution was done by hand and while it ensured personal care, it also affected the quantity of output. Now, screens can be cut digitally and executed by computers, but the cost factor remains the same.