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Established in 1997, Pratibha Syntex is a leading manufacturer of garments. It produces over 60 million pieces of apparel annually including garments, innerwear, thermals and sleepwear for over 20 international leading brands. In an interview with Fibre2Fashion, VP (Sales, Strategy & Sustainability), Sameer Kumar Bhand provides a glimpse into the company's journey towards manufacturing responsible textiles.
What percentage of the world's cotton production is organic? What is the expected growth rate?
Much of the demand for organic cotton currently comes from manufacturers and brands with environmental and social responsibility goals. The world's total organic cotton production is less than 1 per cent of the global cotton production and everyone is striving to make it 2 per cent in the next five years. The willingness to move to organic cotton despite its environmental benefits is low due to lack of transparency, and no real benefits to the least prosperous actors in the supply chain, namely smallholder farmers. The overall cotton production is also expected to decline due to more lucrative alternatives to farmers such as soyabean or reduction in harvested area, especially in India which is the largest producer of cotton in the world.
How many farmers do you work with in India, and in which regions?
There's a lot of change in management and training required for the farmers to successfully complete the shift from conventional to organic cotton. We try to make that shift easy by forming support groups, organising training sessions, providing a platform for buying inputs and selling outputs. Since 1997, about 35,000 farmers have been associated with us under our sustainable farming initiative, Vasudha in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, of which 17,500 farmers grow organic cotton. These farmers grow 30,000 tonnes of organic and BCI cotton on 170,000 acres of land. We are aiming to quadruple farmer incomes by 2022 by not only promoting farming of organic cotton but also other organic crops.
What is the global market size for apparel?
It is a $2.5 trillion and an ever-growing industry. It is estimated that 150 million lives are touched by the global apparel industry in a year. The entire industry is seeing a shift towards more sustainably-produced garments. A lot of conscious brands are aggressively choosing sustainable materials over those that have a negative environmental impact. Major brands are setting targets for the future where they aim to move to sourcing of completely sustainable materials like organic cotton, BCI cotton, recycled polyester, spun-dyed viscose, etc, for their products. Such measures would help increase the share of sustainable garments in the market, though the process will take time.
Which are your major markets for kidswear, menswear, and womenswear?
Europe and US are leading the charts of our major markets for kidswear, menswear and womenswear.
What are your core competencies?
Our vertically integrated supply chain is our biggest competency. It provides us with immense control over our sourcing by ensuring transparency in the supply of authentic organic cotton products. The agility that it provides us helps us stay one step ahead in all respects. With 'Speed to Market' we have reduced our delivery lead time by 30 per cent. It has helped our customers increase their profit margins and lower the amount of inventory that they hold. We engage in fibre production, spinning, knitting, and apparel manufacturing activities in India. This provides us with a lot of scope for research around all areas of the product lifecycle and new product development. Our farming initiative Vasudha, with 35,000 farmers over 170,000 acres of land has been instrumental in establishing us as India's first organic cotton, vertically integrated textiles company. This helps us in establishing a chain for easy traceability and in turn provides transparency. This chain of traceability is highly crucial to ensure authentic supply.
Which major brands and retailers do you supply to? Which new markets do you plan to explore?
We believe in establishing a relationship with brands based on our aligned sustainability goals. Thus, all the brands that we supply to have sustainability goals that are common to us. These shared goals help us establish a long-term association with buyers. We supply to major sportswear and fashion brands around the globe. Our new focus is on Japan. We are looking for associations that help us in driving our aim to be the global leader in sustainable textiles products and practices.
Which are the top sustainable practices followed at Pratibha?
Pratibha's aim is to move to 100 per cent sustainable products and processes, and for this we continuously strive to improve all the practices that are followed here. We have a recycling alternative called Loop that runs on the concept of circular economy by minimising process waste and reducing and reusing the materials and water. Under our zero liquid discharge initiative, we also recycle 100 per cent of the water that we use. We end up using 93 per cent of the recycled water. We use spundyed man-made fibres to ensure minimum use of water, chemicals and energy in the process.
How big is the design team at Pratibha? How do they keep up with international trends?
We have two design teams: one in Pithampur, Indore; and a design studio in Delhi, for design assistance to brands. A lot of visits are organised for our designers to help them keep up with the latest international trends. Participation in events and fairs at both national and international levels also provide a lot of exposure.
Should waste management be an important part of the new textiles policy?
Wastage is an unavoidable part of the entire lifecycle of a garment. Every year 21 billion tonnes of garments and fabrics end up in landfills. Starting from the fibre stage to the final product (the garment) stage, there is wastage of short fibres and residues, fabric cuttings, rejected yarns, fabrics and garments. This results into about 84 per cent waste in the process from seed to garment. The water used for dyeing fabrics, packaging materials, trims, etc-every process has a residue or a by-product or a wastage of some kind. All these products have the potential to be either recycled or reused. The cotton fibre and fabric waste can be recycled to make paper and stationery products, recycled clothing and artifacts. Our spinning unit is also a zero-waste unit. We have also taken the first step towards a circular economy and a zero-waste cycle in the garment manufacturing process, of which, the product, by-products and residues, all are bio-degradable.
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