Out of all the product categories that you cater to, where do you see growth?
Actually, we have a vertically integrated setup to support our woven fabric business. So, we want to concentrate our efforts in that business because lot of Asian markets such as Vietnam and Bangladesh are emerging as garment manufacturers. We are intending to export fabric to such countries that make apparels for big brands. Our intention is to become a nominated supplier by big brands like Marks & Spencer and H&M, so that we can supply fabrics to garment manufacturers to the Asian countries and they in turn will be supplying to the retailers, which is our focus area. Moreover, technical textiles is a wide area, and we are looking for opportunities in that field as well.
Which three factors do you think influence your industry the most?
Textile exports are influenced by, of course, raw material and production cost. Because every year we have this wage solution by the central government, it's actually happening at a faster pace. That is something which might increase the cost of the product (the wages) and also the manpower availability. In terms of skilled manpower, the availability is less and there is also a lot of attrition. In a place like Tiruppur, where there are a lot of options, retaining talent becomes difficult.
Are you planning to move towards automation and implementing robotics owing to labour issues?
That is our future plan, but we have already adopted certain machines. We want to reduce manpower and dependency on labour. Hence, all machinery purchases are based on that. Manufacturers are slowly moving towards automation. A lot of people face this perennial problem of manpower and won't hesitate to invest in automation, which is the trend now.
How can India compete with China, Bangladesh, Vietnam?
It's about the industrial economies of scale; in China everything is on a mass basis. For example, if a factory is manufacturing T-shirts, they do it on a big scale and the factory does only that. That is the skill that they have developed as an expert. They will know where to cut the cost, how to improve productivity. In India, firstly there is this mindset that we want to do everything. It is true with every company. At a given point they are doing 100 different products. The moment you see an opportunity, you just want to grab it and make the most of it. So we are into so many things, and unable to specialise in just one thing. That has an impact on our efficiency, output and production.
Besides, specialising in just on-field like China has a lot of risks if the business is not doing too well. For example, what if the garment sale, because of the global slowdown, scarce purchasing power and changing consumer behaviour, dips? The factory will be in trouble. But that may not be the case with an Indian company. In a way it is good, but it requires multitasking and losing focus, losing efficiency.
Currently in Tamil Nadu, local workers get a lot of freebies from the state government, because of which they do not want to work hard. Today, Tiruppur is more dependent on workers from North India. They are more efficient and give more output.
If you have to, on an average, give a percentage of local workers vs workers from outside, what would it be?
In Tamil Nadu, it should be 50-50. If we need to be competitive with other countries, then we need to have efficient manpower. Besides that, we need a lot of policies from the government to facilitate subsidies. Also, synthetic yarn prices have to be really looked into in India; the import duty is really high. We can never beat China's price in polyester. The whole world is slowly moving towards polyester because even in polyester there is lot of innovation. Polyester is a steady source compared to cotton. Even considering raw material prices on that front, India as a country needs to be very proactive and robust with whatever is the world's preference. If the world prefers manmade, we have to move towards it. Similarly, viscose is happening in ladies' garments. In India, we have lot of brands who sell viscose rayon, but the prices are not competitive. All these aspects need to be looked into. Foreign exchange is not in our hands but raw material and availability of the manpower are, which are lacking by and large, and need to be addressed.
What kind of policies would really help boost this industry?
Indian textiles have an anti-dumping duty into Europe. We are 10 per cent expensive straight away in comparison to Pakistan. I think free trade agreement discussions with the European Union (EU) have been taking place for a while. So, if that comes into being, we will be at least parallel to China and can compete with Pakistan. Again, the raw material prices (cotton prices) are fluctuating, which no one can predict. Even, we being a textile exporter or manufacturer are not able to predict. So if there is a regulation that is more organised, then that would be helpful. Some relaxation in synthetic fabric in reference to coating or structured pricing which is equivalent to the global prices would be of help.
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