Past perfect, future tense

Written by Joseph Vackayil | Updated: Dec 31 2008, 06:23am hrs
A bright yesterday, dim today and an uncertain tomorrow. This is in a nutshell is the outlook of the Indian textile industry, second largest in the world, which clothes about a billion people. The industry, during the last decade, underwent a huge metamorphosis, from controls and regulations to a liberal economy on the domestic turf, and globally, from the quota raj under the multi-fibre arrangement (MFA) to a quota free world trade environment.

Huge investments were made on all the fronts to be globally competitive in spinning, weaving, knitting, processing, and trendy garment-making. The government chipped in with fiscal adjustments, import liberalisation and soft loans and technology upgradation funds.

The transformation has been widespread from cotton cultivation to garment making. In cotton cultivation with the introduction of the genetically modified, BT cotton and technology missions, the country has become the worlds second largest cotton producer.

With the entire world market opened to it and the competitors in the neighbourhood modernising and scaling up to gain an edge, the Indian textile industry had no other option but to plan for the future and invest heavily. The industrys 2020 vision paper envisages a staggering outlay of Rs 1,40,000 crore. Exports are to go up to $50 billion. Amid these mindboggling figures, a small town in Tamil Nadu, Tiruppur, has managed to show to the world how to knit a global success story. Tiruppur, as they say, is the epicentre of the countrys textile revolution.

This tiny village tucked away in the outskirts of Coimbatore began its tryst with knitwear in 1925. By 1940s it had become the knitwear centre in Tamil Nadu. Tiruppur was a dependable source for the Mumbai-based merchant exporters until, Verona an Italian, discovered its direct export potential in 1978. He brought European business to Tiruppur. After the arrival of C&A, the European retail chain in 1981, there was no looking back, no dearth of orders. Investments by entrepreneurs from Tamil Nadu and all over India headed for this tiny town.

Now Tiruppur is a cluster of 6,250 units engaged in every aspect of garment-making: knitting, dyeing and bleaching, fabric printing, garmenting, embroidery, compacting and calendaring and other ancillary works.

Exports have grown with the growth in the number of units. By 1985 exports were to the tune of Rs 15 crore. In five years it grew to Rs 300 crore. It was in 1990 that the Tiruppur Exporters Association (TEA) under the leadership of A Sakthivel entered the scene. By 1999 Tiruppur became the global sourcing centre. Over 37,600 lakh pieces of a variety of garments worth Rs 3,067 crore were exported from the region.

Leading brands like Nike, Cutter & Buck, Adidas, GAP, Tommy Hilfiger, Katzenberg, Van Heusen, Arrow etc and leading chain stores like C&A, Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, Mothers Care and H&M are on the citys client list. One of the units had even supplied T-shirts to FIFA World Cup. By 2006-07 the total exports form Tiruppur stood at Rs 11,000 crore.

However, its forward march was arrested abruptly in 2007-08 when the rupee fell against the dollar. Cotton and other input prices reached unprecedented heights, in spite of record production in the country. Few would have visualised the looming catastrophe. In Tamil Nadu, the demand slowdown is coupled with prolonged power cuts, making the situation very grim. Export orders are on the decline. Buyers are cutting their budgets. The future is really uncertain.

Sakthivel, who has been steering the TEA, estimates close to 20% fall in exports in 2008-09. Hopefully, the lull would be temporary.

Tiruppurs growth saga would be incomplete without touching on the contributions of various institutions, apparel park, and local and global marketing infrastructure, the e-readiness centre and environmental solutions.

In association with the National Institute of Fashion Technology, TEA has put up the NIFT-TEA Knitwear Fashion College to cater to the manpower needs of the knitwear industry. The institute offers graduate and postgraduate degrees in apparel fashion design, fashion apparel management, garment production, chemical processing, apparel manufacturing, and merchandising.

The Netaji Apparel Park with 52 world-class manufacturing units spread over 166 acres was another major venture of the TEA set up to face the challenges and competition in the quota-free regime from 2006. The Rs 300-crore park has state-of-the-art and contributes to over 10% of Tiruppurs exports.

The India Knit Fair (IKF) has become a major event in the global textile fair calender. Buyers from all over the world look forward to the Knit Fairs, Summer and Autumn/Winter.

Last but not the least, TEA has formed a joint venture with the Tuticorin-based St John Freight Systems with offices in Tuticorin and Antwerp, Belgium, to support exporters. TEA also has a tie-up with Micorsoft India to set up e-readiness centres to offer programmes and learning modules for local system integrators, resellers and independent solution vendors.

A public private partnership company, Textile Eco Solutions Tamil Nadu, was formed in March 2007. It will carry out the marine discharge project to resolve the effluents problem, mainly from the dyeing units.