Interview with Mani Chinnaswamy

Face2Face
Mani Chinnaswamy
Mani Chinnaswamy
Managing Director
Appachi Eco-Logic Cotton Pvt Ltd
Appachi Eco-Logic Cotton Pvt Ltd

Suvin is "the most luxurious fibre" in Japan, neglected in country of origin India

Appachi Eco-Logic Cotton Pvt Ltd, established in 1996, growing out of the ginning backdrop of Sri Santhalakshmi Mills started fifty years earlier, has a rich cotton legacy. Managing Director Mani Chinnaswamy explains to Subir Ghosh what has gone wrong with Suvin, the world's longest and finest cotton fibre that is grown exclusively in India.

Why, do you think, Suvin has not been able to get the recognition that it deserves? After all, it was released for commercial cultivation way back in 1974. What has gone wrong?

It has been 45 years since Suvin was introduced in India. Till the 1990s it was predominantly consumed by domestic mills in India for production of finer yarns of 120s counts and above for use in manufacturing super-luxury lustrous fabrics. Suvin cotton production had peaked to about 30,000 bales (170 kg / bale) in the late 1980s. Suvin, is a long duration crop, from sowing to cultivation it takes about 220 days of crop cycle. 

A confluence of factors such as instability in yield, competition from other hybrid cottons, longer crop duration and market-related distortions especially in terms of pricing have adversely impacted the Suvin production in India. This decline in productivity saw a steady raise in Suvin fibre prices that eventually led to a decline in domestic demand. Mills began replacing the expensive Suvin fibres with other cheaper alternatives such as Pima and Giza cotton. Only a handful of players in India consume Suvin for production of special yarns and fabrics.

Unfortunately, today's Indian consumers are unaware of our own wonder fibre Suvin, which is the world's longest and finest. Suvin has lost its sheen in India due to want of patronage by the consuming industry and the end-consumers.

Suvin is extra-long staple cotton. Do you think ELS does not have enough applications? Or, do you think shorter staple cotton fibres have more uses?

Suvin has no parallel and alternative in the world today. The production of its distant alternatives-Giza 45 and Sea Island cotton-is almost nil or insignificant. Suvin has already established its position as "The" fibre for spinning over 140-240s count yarn. In my opinion, categorising Suvin as an ELS fibre is itself wrong. With 38-40 mm fibre length and 2.8-3.0 micronaire, it is the world's longest and finest fibre. Hence, it altogether belongs to a niche category of fibres that are consumed for very high premium quality of yarns in the niche luxury segments of the textiles value chain. The consumption of ELS fibre in India is pegged at around 9 lakh bales / annum. India produces close to 3 lakh bales of ELS cotton per annum. The shortfall is covered by imports of Pima and Giza cotton from the US and Egypt respectively. Most of the Suvin produced in India is exported to Japan, where they produce niche yarns from 140-300s Ne from the same fibre.

What are the major problems plaguing Suvin? Rising costs of cultivation? Or low yields? How comparable is it with other cotton fibres in terms of production costs as well as market prices?

Although Suvin cotton is the finest cotton produced in India, it has no official recognition or status. The farmers' struggle to sustain Suvin with its current productivity, cost of cultivation and outdated conventional farming methods have been noted.

Being a longer duration crop, it needs ideal weather conditions all through its growth and productivity stages; any aberration will cause loss of yield and rise in pest attacks. 

Over the past decade, we have been witnessing a change in weather patterns that results in erratic monsoons. This situation has forced traditional Suvin growers to switch over to shorter duration Bt hybrid cotton crops that promise higher yields and protection form major pest such as bollworms.

The cost of cultivation of Suvin is almost three times higher than that of other commercial grown ELS cotton. Suvin cotton prices are 50 per cent more than that of ELS varieties of cotton.

Suvin goes well as a fibre of choice with high-end fashion brands. But, has it been adopted enough? What prospects do you see with more hi-fashion brands coming to India?

Suvin is indeed a niche fibre and rightly belongs to the high-end fashion Industry. The lack of awareness about Suvin, the Jewel in the Indian Cotton Crown, among end-consumers is really hurting its prospects. Building a brand around Suvin is the only way forward, wherein we can rightfully restore it in its glory and thereby increasing its domestic demand.

The Cotton Association of India had indeed launched the 'Suvin Ratna' brand of fabrics a couple of years ago to build consumer awareness about this India's pride to domestic and international trade circles.  Brands such as Arvind, Raymond and ITC had introduced small collections of fabrics and garments made exclusively with Suvin for the domestic markets. All of them share the view that there is a price resistance among consumers after a certain price point; hence, they are unable to increase their consumption year on year. 

In my opinion, not much investment or effort has gone into building a brand around Suvin in India. Indian consumers are still unaware about Suvin, its heritage and uniqueness. It is sad to see Suvin being branded and promoted as "the most luxurious fibre" in Japan, while being neglected in its country of origin. The fact is that it is the only Indian fibre  that has been branded for use in domestic and international markets, among hundreds of other listless fibres that are produced in India. A long-term sustainable approach for popularising Suvin is the need of the hour. It has to be driven by brands themselves, as a unique Indian story, to attract the attention of the niche Indian consumers. 

All this while it has been a bottoms-up approach with producers of Suvin fibre, trade bodies and the mill sector who have all contributed in a negligible way to build awareness about Suvin.

What about the selling mechanism for Suvin? Can people source in small quantities? Are enough brands buying Suvin?

Suvin cotton in India is custom grown; hence, not commercially available like others in our market. As I explained earlier, India used to produce around 30,000 bales of cotton per annum; this has now dropped down to mere 2000 bales of Suvin cotton (2018-19). Very few domestic brands consume Suvin fibre for their product range.

How does Suvin position itself in a textiles-apparel-fashion world that needs to go 100 per cent circular/sustainable?

Suvin is a very tricky and cumbersome crop for the farmer to grow in his field. Growing it sustainably (organically) will be most challenging and next to impossible in Indian agronomical conditions. Considering the financial risk as a result of any crop failure, it would be too much to expect from our resource-poor farmers to grow it in a sustainable manner. To my knowledge only a very small quantity of organic Suvin is grown in India.
Published on: 05/10/2019

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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