Interview with Kirti Kumar Patodia

Kirti Kumar Patodia
Kirti Kumar Patodia
Star Silk Exports
Star Silk Exports

Pastels, especially powder-pink, are still in style in silk
Silk is largely a luxury fibre, as it always has been. Kirti Kumar Patodia, director of Star Silk Exports, talks about the global silk industry in an interview with

What, according to you, is the future of man-made fibre compared to natural fibre?

In 1900, just one fibre made up about 80 per cent of the world's production of textile fibres - cotton. Although more and more cotton was grown with total fibre use expanding, cotton's portion fell to 50 per cent in 1975. In the 1990s, it fell to below 40 per cent. The total amount used also fell slightly in some years. But it still earned its name of King Cotton - as the most-used single fibre in the world. By 2005, it still accounted for over one-third of all the fibres, but so did polyester! So, in the 21st century, the king had to share the throne, if not actually step down! It may be hard for us to realise that in 1800, cotton accounted for only four per cent of fibre use, at least in European countries. Wool was made up 78 per cent and flax, 18 per cent. Silk, then as now, was only a luxury fibre and was at less than one per cent. Cotton did not become the king until after the Industrial Revolution got well underway in the 19th century, although the impetus came in the 18th century with machine spinning of cotton yarn. The total textile fibres used worldwide since 1900 increased ten-fold by 1990. It reached over fourteen-fold by the end of the 20th century. The beginning of that century had marked the earliest stages of the use of manmade fibres including those from cellulose, reconstituted (as in rayon) or cellulose compounds (as in acetate). In 1938, the first synthetic fibre - nylon - was introduced. Synthetics established themselves after World War II in the 1950s. Textile fibre consumption increased almost directly with the development of countries and the rise in standard of living. So, while some fierce competition existed between fibres for certain end-uses, seldom did one major fibre drive another from the marketplace. Synthetic fibres have shown the most notable growth in the amount used. Among synthetics, nylon led the growth and amount used until 1972. Polyester then took the lead. By 2000, polyester represented 60 per cent of all synthetics and accounted for over a third of all the fibres used, at par with cotton or just slightly ahead. Nylon, with eight per cent of synthetics, was in a distant second place. Polypropylene (olefin), which has long been a dark horse in this fibre steeplechase, has moved rapidly into prominence, especially for activewear, industrial floor coverings and disposable nonwovens. It is now, at six per cent, third in the use of synthetics. Acrylic has regained ground, at six per cent of synthetics. Spandex, although present in small amounts in most applications, is gaining steady importance. A specialised fibre, aramid, has also found many uses because of its flame- and heat-resistance. The early 2000s saw the development of a type of synthetic fibre which is bound to be very important in the future. Headed by the generic Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) it has excellent properties and derives its carbon from starch, an annually renewable resource, rather than a hydrocarbon such as oil. It is also biodegradable. Cellulosic MF (CMF) fibre production has been far out-distanced by synthetics, especially polyester. The use of CMF fibres decreased from 1980 to 2000, with the HWM rayons never reaching their full potential. However, in the 21st century, the closely-related CMF fibres of the lyocell type led by Tencel (staple, originally from Courtaulds) and Newcell (filament by Acordis), can deliver excellent properties and performance. They are environmentally acceptable in raw material and processes used (solvent spinning) and may register an increase. The tremendous rise in production of synthetics from 1980 to 2005 is continuing and is truly startling. It should be kept in mind by any student of textiles as a verifier of the importance of the advantages of synthetics discussed in this section. A major advantage is the specialised forms and modifications that multiplied since 1990. Many of them are suitable for the myriad industrial and technical applications or consumer gear that uses high-tech material. The growth also reflects hugely increased MF production in areas other than the United States of America, Western Europe and Japan. These are the emerging markets of Taiwan, China, South Korea and India.

What will be trends in silk for the year 2015-16?

Autumn and winter will see tactile, upholstery-style silk chenille fabric sharing space with rugged silk fabrics like tussar, ghicha and noil that gives knitwear more texture and finish. Feathery silks, quilted silks and faux silk ensembles will be in the spotlight, creating unusual effects. Mixed hybrids and embellishments will play a significant role. Cooler silk furs will adorn entire or a part of the jacket and dress sleeves and rugged textures will be seen, with the use of silk and netting on garments. Colour mixing will update casual and formal looks. Expect to see a considerable detailing and personalisation like emblazoned signatures on classic patterns for a fresh update. Monogramming and painting will be popular choices in adding personal touches to gifts, and will enhance the festive effect around Christmas. Pastels are still in style, the current favourites being powder-pink. Other top choices will be romantic colours like smoky purple and dusty pink in ethereal fabrics.

What is the kind of research carried out in silk?

Silk research is mainly carried out in the growing of host plants, rearing silkworms, reeling, twisting, weaving and marketing of various value-added products and services. In order to meet this, research is on to come up with new varieties of mulberry silkworm to suit various agro-climatic conditions and to increase productivity, quality and profitability of sericulture. Other aspects that are being researched include number of products, methodologies, package of practices.

What new innovations can be expected in the silk industry in 2015-16?

Spider silk is a protein fibre produced by spiders via a unique gland. Spider silk is an extraordinary biological polymer that is linked to collagen found in human skin and bone. However, it has a much more complex structure. The interest in spider silk has increased as further research shows that it possesses a unique combination of mechanical strength and elasticity, making it one of the toughest materials known. Although the usefulness of spider silk has been known for a long time, recent breakthroughs and innovations have shed new light on the elastic properties of silk and may lead to a new generation of bio-inspired materials. We can expect innovation in this field to continue at a robust pace in 2015-16.

What is the agenda for the next two years?

A continued commitment to quality and customer delight is the agenda.

What was your growth percentage in the last two years? What is the expected growth in the coming two years?

We grew five per cent per year in the last two years. We are targeting seven per cent per year in the coming two years.
Published on: 28/10/2015

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

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