The publicity blitzkrieg for yoga in recent times has given a leg-up to India’s coir business centred in Kerala, catapulting coir yoga mats to a fashion statement of sorts. Out of India’s Rs 2,600-crore coir exports, Kerala accounts for 44% and a good part of the exports are coir mat products.
“Although there are nearly 100 diverse coir products including doormats and carpets, at international fairs there is huge attention for the new yoga mat kit. This usually comes with a yoga mat rolled up inside a kit and has two pillows and a bed sheet as complementary,” said S Ratnakumar, managing director, Foam Mattings. This package is priced at Rs 525 per kit.
It was the state-run Coirfed that, in 2014, first thought up the idea of a coir yoga mat to piggyback on the NDA government’s thrust on yoga exercises.
“Unless there are such innovative products in tune with times, the traditional industry would be unable to catch up,” said Raul Fangueiro, natural fibre specialist with the University of Minho, Portugal. “However, they have to address the new kind of aesthetic needs too.”
The coir yoga mat has easily emerged a star-attraction at the international coir expo that the Kerala government conducts every year at Alapuzha, with a buyer or two from European Union often pointing out that “it works out cheaper than the Persian silk rug”.
“What I like about a coir yoga mat is that it is environment-friendly and yet produced as sleek and smooth as one would want a personal care product to be,” said Elmira Babalou, an Iranian partner at a German firm that buys coir products from India.
Private exporters in Kerala, who account for annual coir exports of over Rs 1,000 crore, say that China, Europe and US are the biggest consumers of new coir matting products. From Rs 2,260 crore in the 2016-17, India’s coir exports rose to Rs 2,600 crore in 2017-18, according to CP Radhakrishnan, chairman, Coir Board.
However, the Kerala government is not pinning its hopes solely on exports. “It is crucial to develop the domestic market as the global demand for coir may shrink soon. There is a huge untapped market within India yet to be introduced to unfamiliar modern coir products,” said state finance minister TM Thomas Isaac, whose doctoral thesis was on the coir industry.
In fact, the Kerala government has even rolled out a marketing plan, stringing together 500 franchisees throughout the country. The idea is that at least by the next international day of yoga, coir yoga mats would be ready in supermarkets in all major Indian cities.