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Partner in Consumer and Retail Practice AT Kearney
Cotton. Do you think the sector is in a bad shape?
The cotton industry is doing good. The question is if taxation on cotton increases, the consumption will shift in favour of synthetics. That will eventually happen. At least, that's what the global trend is. I don't think we can do anything to prevent it. But if cotton consumption goes down and it has a back-effect on cotton farmers, that will definitely be an impact. Whether it is powerlooms or spinning, some of them can shift to a synthetic mix as well. In processing, you will have an imbalance because you will need greater synthetic processing capacity and you will have some excess cotton processing capacity. So, there will be a little bit of redundancy in terms of processing. But processing capacity was short to begin with for cotton. Maybe, it will then balance itself.
Going back to what you said earlier, why do you say that in garmenting we have lost the plot?
The garmenting industry is already talking about going to Africa. It is not as if we are going to. There is no question of competing with Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Anyone who says we can compete with them has not seen any of those places. We are nowhere! There is a fundamental rethinking that is needed. And the industry is already thinking of moving to Africa... this is a mobile industry. It will go wherever the costs are the lowest. This is an industry that you can uproot and plant. It is not like textiles. It can go to any country which can produce good quality, in large volumes and at a good price. It is not a complicated industry at all.
So, do you think the industry needs a disruption?
But disruption is already happening. I am not going to make predictions because disruption depends on creation of something. For example, you get a new fibre: a natural fibre that is cheaper than cotton which has a more predictable supply and more stable prices, then why not? That would be a huge disruption. If you have a technology for, say, a cellulosic viscose yarn, that would be a huge disruption. If you can collapse the number of stages for spinning or collapse the number of things required for weaving, those would be huge disruptions as well. In this industry, not a single phase/ step in spinning or weaving has been eliminated in the last hundred years. Why can't you put cotton at one end and get yarn at the other?
You think we are lacking in innovation?
It is not about India alone. We don't need to take the blame for any of these (laughs), but yes, there could be so much more innovation. The other thing is about this huge desire to sell more and more garments at cheaper and cheaper prices for consumers who actually don't need more clothes. I don't get it. I was just asking somebody: what if tomorrow cotton or polyester prices double, and the end garment prices also double. What would happen then? I think disasters would happen. I am sure employment consequences would be there, but technically consumers will buy fewer garments. One can argue whether it is better to have larger employment numbers at lower wages, or is it better to have fewer employment at higher wages. It is a difficult question to answer. So, there is a need for a new value proposition for sure.
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