Aditya Birla Group’s Liva, which is a natural cellulose fibre, is soon to venture in men’s wear as well. Rajeev Gopal, Chief Global Sales & Marketing Officer of Birla Cellulose at Aditya Birla Group, talks to Financial Express Online about Liva, why products don’t sell with just the sustainable tag, the role of sustainability in the textile industry and the competition Liva is facing from other fibres. Here are edited excerpts of Rajeev Gopal’s conversation with Prachi Gupta.
From almost three decades with ITC to almost another decade with the Birla group, how has your journey been?
I’ve been very fortunate to work with two very fine companies. I’ve had a very good career with ITC and I am enjoying my stint with Aditya group. It’s extremely challenging. The textile industry is something I knew nothing about when I came here. I was primarily an FMCG and packaging man. But, this is a fascinating industry and the work we have done here has been pathbreaking.
What kind of changes have you seen in consumer front in the years you have been associated with the Aditya Birla group?
Consumers are becoming far more demanding now. They have more choices, they are very discerning, they are connected, and they are value conscious. They love good things. Quality expectations have improved dramatically. Therefore what was acceptable earlier is no longer acceptable.
So when you say they have a lot of choices, are you saying that Liva has been facing competition?
In most spheres consumers have choices. For example, Liva is in the textile industry. Within this, consumers can buy garments made from cotton, polyester or Liva. So, there is huge competition.
Why, then, would they come to Liva?
That is where value composition we are creating comes into play. We are talking about Liva as a natural, fluid fashion fabric. It means, A, it is a natural origin fabric, B, it provides fluidity — it is more of a concept rather than actual attribute. It encompasses fall, drape, softness, smoothness, lustre. Customers get these benefits when they wear garments made of Liva fabric. Hence, they can be fashionable without feeling boxed in.
The fashion industry has always been criticised for not promoting inclusivity and sustainability. Is this a move towards improving on that front?
Sustainability, yes. Viscose fibre, the ingredient of Liva fabric, is inherently more sustainable fibre compared to other major fibres cotton and polyester.
Cotton uses more resources like land and water, both of which are limited. Polyester is non-biodegradable. Micro-fibres are entering river systems, river bodies and then in food-chain.
With LivaEco we have taken this a step further. LivaEco has got certain enhanced credentials of sustainability than regular Liva. It is ensured that all the wood we use for LivaEco is sourced from FSC certified forests. We also ensure that the manufacturing unit releases the least amount of carbon dioxide and it uses less water.
Do you think the raising concern around the environment and need for sustainable future is the selling point of Liva? Do you think this will resonate with the youth?
The selling point is that it is a great fabric. It is comfortable and on top of it, it is sustainable. Consumers don’t want just sustainable products without other benefits. This has got the best of both worlds.
Is it a patent fabric?
Yes, it is a patent.
Do you see Liva as the future of the fabric industry?
We would like to believe that because, in our estimate, you can’t grow more cotton, there is no land available. Water is one of the most scarce resources. Therefore, cotton production won’t increase. Polyester is not a sustainable fabric. People would like to tell you that it is recyclable, but it is not. It does not degrade. Man-made cellulosic fibre is the answer.
If these are man-made fibres derived from trees, are you not cutting down the trees?
The forests we source our wood from, they are renewable. It is ensured that for a single tree we cut for our raw material, we plant two trees. In fact, the forest cover is increasing. Our major suppliers are Canada and Sweden. If you actually search on Google, you’ll see that the forest cover has increased there over the years.
Are you saying that you have directly or indirectly contributed to that increase?
We are contributing to that, absolutely.
Any future plans for expansion?
We are investing about 4,000 crores to create more capacity for producing these fibres in India. The investment is already on. It is in our Vilayat factory in Gujarat.
From where did the idea first come to venture in Liva?
We started working on this in 2013-14. We were seeing that the consumers are not aware of viscose fibres or what man-made cellulosic fibres can do. This has filled a very clear gap in consumer wardrobe. We saw great potential after our research.
Will Liva be available on e-commerce websites?
We have partnered with Myntra to make sure customers get Liva tag clothes online. So, Myntra has a special section for Liva tag garments.
What is the target Group for Liva?
Currently, Liva is in the women’s segment. Our TG is 25-35. But it sells to everybody. We are moving to other segments like menswear and home textiles very soon. I think it is just the beginning of the journey.