Plain fabrics can look boring after a time, and the crucial value addition is done by processing. Two companies famous for their skills in textile ornamentation and processing reveal their processes.

There needs to be a constant change in fashion to sustain interest among buyers, and this is reflected not just in styles, silhouettes, embellishments and fabrics. Not so long ago, the only fabrics selected would be the silk types and the cotton types, which were further divided into varieties like georgette, chiffon, satin or taffeta in the first category, and linen, poplin and khadi in the second.

The prints were important and went through major changes as fashion moved forward. Embellishments were taken from the crafts to add value to the apparel. With the advent of denim and its soaring global popularity, different washes ensured that this universally desired textile stayed on top of the charts.

In the 21st century, high-tech textiles with innovative treatments like breathe-easy, anti-microbial finish, cool finish, anti-stain, anti-sweat, fragrance techniques and other comfort formulae were added to make fabrics acceptable to New Age buyers. Then came biodegradable fibres made from wood pulp for fabrics like Tencel, Modal and many more that ensured that fashion moved ahead at breakneck speed.

To further add value to a garment, surface ornamentation became the keyword in the form of processing treatments that ensured that a simple, flat, coloured silk or cotton material was turned into one with a 3D effect that instantly appealed to designers and buyers.

Zenitex Pvt Ltd

One of the most popular names in the textile processing business is the Surat-based  Zenitex Pvt Ltd where Viral Desai, CEO of the company, has been the driving force. Started in 2003, Zenitex is at the forefront when it comes to surface ornamentation like crinkling, embroidery and digital printing, and has a wet dyeing unit with sustainable colours.

Working with designers and popular fashion stores like Creo and Angel Paradise in Mumbai where Zenitex treatments can be seen on the collections, the fabrics are also exhibited at major fashion shows around India.

When it comes to the time taken for the treatments, Desai states, "It would be difficult to summarise treatment with uniformity but on an average, it would require 1-5 days based on customer requirements and order sizes as well as our production schedules.

For commercial viability purposes, the MOQ (minimum order quantity) is 1,200 metres, but we would welcome any quantity above the MOQ. It would vary on a treatment-to-treatment basis, and various treatments specified by the customer. It would be difficult to give precise cost of treatments but in general the treatment cost may vary from ₹9 per metre on the lower side to ₹300 per metre on the maximum side for one or more treatments."

Quality control for treatments is of prime importance as Desai adds, "Quality control is done to ensure that there are no errors-colour dip, shade matching, right dyes and solvents, skilled operators, standardised batch process, adequately maintained stenters, plant hygiene conditions, and finish folding section to track any defect in dyed cloth. The best fabrics for treatment are chiffon, weightless fabric, recron, nylon and polyester, with nylon being the best."

With a capacity of 50,000 metres per day, the lead time required to despatch to the customer could be around 10-15 days with fabrics being supplied by the customer or sourced by Zenitex that in turn gets the fabrics, dyes and chemicals from partners like Archroma and Colortex. Treatments like lustre premium process are done after dyeing and when it comes to the longevity of the treatment it could be permanent, but of course subject to each type.

Since innovation is the key of the processing business, Zenitex has hydro repel treatments, sanitised, and UV filtered coatings that are the company's future projects in the pipeline. Other new introductions are of natural fabrics like aloe vera, bamboo and tulsi fabrics that have now come into the market. New coatings on nylon fabrics like sanitised, UV and hydro repel are currently trending.

Promotions and advertising are done quite selectively. "We do not advertise with any media. However, we do participate in fashion shows to support kids and social causes, online marketing, tie-ups with e-commerce portals, internationally for scarves, stoles and fabric accessories."

Desai informs, "Sustainability is becoming the key driver for all innovations. Sustainability offers two-fold benefits for businesses and consumers. Most global corporates and multinationals believe that sustainability will be critical for the future success of business. We need to shape consumer tastes and build stronger markets for sustainable products. We need to train employees regarding sustainability issues and communicate with our investors to create a better understanding of the impact."

After winning the 'National Energy Conservation Award' and the state's 'Best Industry for Quality and Environmental Protection Award', we were incredibly motivated and inspired to go beyond mandatory parameters and create new benchmarks in terms of sustainability and productivity. Hence, we are proud to implement and introduce the 360-degree sustainability model at Zenitex.

"We believe sustainable production and processing can help raise the living conditions of labourers and mitigate the negative impacts on the environment. Social conditions can be improved by implementing international standards and through learning mechanism. At Zenitex, our sustainable programme works to improve labour conditions and reduce environmental pollution."

He continues, "Our whole processing unit is powered by windmill-operated generators, there is extensive use of VFD (variable frequency drive) to conserve energy, and water harvesting is carried out with the sole purpose of recharging groundwater. About 5,500 trees have been planted on the premises of the processing unit, green walls have been facilitated by drip irrigation. We try to refurbish all our capital goods requirements by primarily trying to source from the scrap."

The CSR programmes of the company are also paid attention. "As a company, we believe in the philosophy that 'a business that does nothing but money is poor business'. We actively conduct CSR activities throughout the year. In the past we did many camps for cancer check-ups, out of which one was a world record-we screened 40,000 women from the tribal belt of Dang. During this camp, we realised that though they lived in poverty, their health was good enough, which they credited to staying among nature. This gave us the required push for afforestation in urban areas. In 2016, we launched the 'Clean India - Green India' (a tree plantation campaign), in which so far we have planted and are taking care of 29,000 trees and plants along with 4,800 tree guards. Recently, we developed the Udhna railway station into a green station, the first of its kind in India. We keep interacting with people through various means, be it social media, news or making green cars (which was also the first of its kind)."

When it comes to competition from China, Desai feels, "It would not be prudent to compare our products of smaller quantities and niche segment w.r.t China's presence in huge volumes."

But the future of processing units in India is of concern. "It is imperative to have a business model which has its unique business proposition. Adaptability to market conditions is the second requirement. Last year, 34 dyeing units in the city were closed down. Market conditions are not very conducive. The present recession has taken into its grip the entire textiles industry."

On demonetisation and GST, Desai contends, "Of course, there is a kneejerk reaction to the impact of demonetisation and GST as now the focus is on the formal economy. Erratic spending has seen a drastic reduction. We are directly affected as the fashion segment depends on impulsive buying. But over time, the formal economy is expected to get a boost and growth would normalise subject to conducive global economic conditions. I feel our efforts to incorporate business with green initiatives and CSR activities voluntarily should be incentivised in form of rebates, subsidies and a close public-private partnership model, wherein the strengths of both are exploited to fullest for the betterment of society."

When it comes to steps taken by the government to help MSMEs, he adds, "MSMEs like ours can be supported to make an international presence under the Make in India initiative. The government can showcase our products by giving us a platform overseas and by facilitating industry-specific trade fairs."

Zenitex started exporting fabrics on a small scale in 2019 and its domestic customers also undertake third-party exports. Exports are at just 1 per cent of the turnover. The US, Canada, Latin American countries, Vietnam, Turkey and France are the key countries / regions that Zenitex exports to.

Punikim Textiles Pvt Ltd

One of the most popular textile processors where designers and fashion institutes rush to is Punikim Textiles Pvt Ltd in Mumbai with Nimesh Parekh as creative director. Parekh has guided the company since it started in 1987 and handles the crucial departments of production and quality and creates new techniques that are used to update value addition on fabrics.

Parekh's creative efforts have been key to the company's growth, product knowledge and expansion of contacts in the industry. Different treatments like fabric carding, embossing, embroidery, cut-work, bonding, applique embroidery, new kinds of value additions and texturing on fabrics are usually done; the most popular treatments required by designers are fabric carding, embroidery and cutwork, bonding, applique embroidery, laser cutting, foil print, heat setting, raindrop effect, etc. The list of designers who work with Punikim include Manish Malhotra, Vikram Phadnis, Gavin Miguel, Neeta Lulla and many more.

A minimum quantity of 5-10 metres is required and the production capacity is about one lakh metres per month. The time taken for the treatments varies. Pleating which comprises azzer, sleeping, bamboo, crack jack, standing, mushroom, partial, umbrella uneven, pinch and jacquard takes 4-5 days. Embossing designs like male / female patterns, brasso, plain and paper finish take 3-5 days. Carding, a little intensive, takes 12-15 days; and the other effects include cutwork (2-3 days), laser cut (4-5 days), raindrops (12-15 days), foil prints (5-6 days), stone prints (5-6 days), diamond crushing groovy (3-4 days), bonding and pearl effect (5-7 days). The price for the treatments ranges from ₹25 to ₹500 per metre depending on the quantity, designs and value additions.

Parekh elaborates on the fabrics and quality control: "The fabrics that we work on are satin, velvet, jute, linen, swiss cotton, polyester, cotton, taffeta and silk, and out of these when it comes to heat-related processes, polyester works the best and other techniques can be done on any fabric.

Our technical staff first inspects the fabrics and then the designs are done as per the buyers' requirements. There is 100 per cent checking for measurements and workmanship before packing the goods. 

Overall, when it comes to the value addition process as per the designs, the production is 25,000 metres per day and the lead line is 1-3 weeks. The designers give us the fabrics and the treatment is done after dyeing."

Innovations are a must in surface ornamentation, which Parekh himself handles and there are new treatments like design wrinkles, pear effect, raindrop effect, mirror work bonding and design foil lamination that add to the value of the fabrics. The treatment is mostly permanent, but sometimes this also depends on the design itself.

Competition is keen as Parekh says, "There is competition with Surat for a few products. But, since we believe in quality and consistency of the products, we always create new innovations which in turn create a market for new products. Thus, we withstand competition. Anybody who wants to survive in this business of value addition has to have all kinds of customers for furnishing, dress material, saris, garments, purses, export, etc, so that one has a wide spectrum of business."

Parekh is not worried about China: "China does not believe in creativity. They believe in quantity and copying. They do not have their own ideas. Since India can generate new ideas and in small quantities, we are able to survive in this critical situation."

Promotions, advertising and marketing are important for the company and it participates in fairs like Heimtextil in Germany, Proposte Como in Italy and HGH in India. "Besides those, we do lots of new innovations for big designers like Manish Malhotra, Vikram Phadnis and many others who take part in Lakme Fashion Week and also for designers who work for international labels."

The company does not use hazardous chemicals. "Our process is mainly heatsetting; so, we do mostly the heat-set process and it is environment-friendly. We work on automatic machines with the latest technology where there is no pollution. There is a buzz around sustainability, and this is important. We are trying to use fabrics derived from eco-friendly sources such as sustainably grown fibres, crops or recycled materials to minimise environmental impact and preferably be biodegradable."

While Parekh would not like to divulge the company's turnover, he says that the export business is higher than the local one and the company exports to the UK, the US, Ghana and Belgium. "We supply value-added fabrics to these countries. They want embossing on polyester fabrics, carding on cotton fabrics and laser cut on synthetic georgette fabrics.

Our best countries for export are the UK and Belgium where they want laser, carding, foiling, embossing and pleating."

On demonetisation, GST and recession, he believes, "Recession affects business but not much. The reason is that every industry looks for new items and variety, which is possible to create by the value-addition processes and during recession people come out with something new and at that time development takes place. Demonetisation and GST have had an impact on business but as we say if you come out with innovations, there is business and the government should help by promoting our goods and give more subsidies to take part in Indian and international exhibitions so that we get more export orders."

On the future of processing units, he says, "There is no new fabric coming out in the world. So, value addition makes the twists and turns in fabrics, which make the textile look more attractive and gives a different definition to the materials. It has been observed that for every textile, whether it is denim or Lycra fabrics, satin, polyester or cotton voile, they all need value addition or else people will get bored of looking at plain fabrics. So, the future is quite bright for the industry."

This Article was first published in the November 2019 edition of the print magazine.