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Changing textile industry through technology

Nurturing the supply of natural fibres to what is an expanding sector amid the harsh realities of climate change is a challenge that technology-powered sustainable solutions can help surmount…writes Mayank Tiwari

From the mulberry and cotton farms to the retail stores stacked with endless rows of glittering sarees, stakeholders throughout the natural fibre supply chain aspire to be self-sufficient,  besides wanting to guard against the uncertainties of the market. Adoption of digital solutions, across the board, can ensure that the stakeholders, particularly those at the grassroots – farmers, reelers, and weavers – are deservingly rewarded.

Meanwhile, the retailer, equipped with knowledge of the entire lifecycle of both the raw materials and the fabric, can leverage their superior quality to set the price with greater precision. Enhanced quality, coupled with a boost in overall productivity, has ensured a manifold increase in the income of every stakeholder that is part of the natural fibre value chain. In the recent past, many villages have had farmers, reelers, and weavers, scripting such success stories with the assistance of technology, coupled with an enabling ecosystem. Digital solutions have enabled stakeholders in the largely rural textile sector to supplement the benefits they have accrued from improved internet connectivity and smartphone penetration.

Assurance of quality

To give an example, the weaving of silk is a highly complex task. Silk cocoons harvested from mulberry leaves need to be transported from the farms within a stipulated period of time since each minute lost in transit can affect the quality of yarns. Mulberry farmers often complain of the ordeal they have to endure in transporting silk cocoons  – these include having to rise at odd hours, securing transport, and arranging for compact storage spaces.

Digital integration of the entire ecosystem on an app, for instance, would enable farmers to almost immediately transport the harvested cocoons to the reelers /yarn manufacturers. Immediately after harvesting the cocoons, once the farmer sends an alert on this app, he can leave the task of transporting them to able logistics handlers. Meanwhile, with third-party vendors ensuring the transport of cocoons in sterile chambers, neither the reeler nor the farmer needs to worry over the probable deterioration of the cocoons and can rest assured of being fairly remunerated. Streamlining the supply chain, right from the farm to the retail outlet, will usher in consistency in pricing, while data availability on both domestic and global markets will help sustain perennial demand.

Scope for experimentation

Today, leveraging the immense scope of 3D printing, and computer-aided design technologies, weavers can be more adventurous in the design of garments. Increased employment of 3D printing can result in a proportionate reduction in the utilisation of natural resources such as water. Furthermore, as the industrial world prepares to embrace the full-fledged capabilities of ‘Industry 4.0’, the use of 3D printers at a textile mill ensures that the transition of the traditional handloom mill into a ‘Smart’ manufacturing plant is seamless.

Towards sustainability

Shrinking arable land, depleting natural resources, and rising pollution levels, are among the problems expected to effect a marked reduction in the overall output of the natural fibre sector across the world. Cognisant of these challenges, stakeholders in the sector are proactively seeking sustainable alternatives to cotton and silk.

Leveraging an extensive suite of advanced digital solutions, the industry is now experimenting with banana peel, and pineapple leaf, to meet the twin objective of meeting growing demand, while keeping the industry’s overall carbon footprint to a bare minimum.   Notwithstanding the untapped potential of the man-made fibre market in the country, the natural fibre ecosystem remains the bedrock of India’s textile and apparel industry. It is the abundant availability of raw materials – India is the largest producer of cotton and the second largest producer of silk – that is driving sustained investment in the sector[1].

Nurturing the supply of natural fibres to what is an expanding sector amid the harsh realities of climate change is a challenge that technology-powered sustainable solutions can help surmount.

Ready financial assistance at the fingertip

Farmers engaged in the cultivation of mulberry, cotton, or other natural fibres, often struggle with a wide range of problems, ranging from difficulties in securing financial assistance, and quality raw materials, to poor logistics infrastructure, and inconsistent pricing. Although the GoI has rolled out plenty of schemes aimed at easing access to finance for these farmers, a lack of awareness about these initiatives prompts them to turn to the more traditional financial institutions. But banks and NBFCs often fail to factor in the constraints under which these farmers toil – problems range from the long cash conversion cycle to the equally short lifespan of the raw produce.

Consequently, farmers either find the terms offered on loans unattractive or secure limited funds that severely curtail the scope of their operations. However, fintech firms, through the use of credit scores, big data tools, and a more transparent operational framework, are endeavouring to lend a much-needed hand to farmers[2]. Farmers cultivating mulberry on a patch of land as small as half an acre can now apply for loans on their smartphones, owing to the digitisation of the financial process. The transparency that the digitised financial ecosystem guarantees has also simplified the process for claiming insurance, with stakeholders being spared the ordeal of a lengthy verification procedure.

A long way to go

Although more and more weavers, farmers, and reelers, not only in the silk value chain but across the natural fibre ecosystem, are turning to technology to improve their livelihoods, the harsh reality of an overwhelming majority of those in the handloom textile sector in India – more than 67% of the 31.4 lakh handloom weavers earn less than INR 5,000 per month[3] – attests to the need to accelerate digitisation of the ecosystem. In addition to the handloom workers, the textile and apparel industry in India is the source of livelihood for nearly 14 lakh other stakeholders. At the end of the previous fiscal year, exports from the textile and apparel sector earned India USD 44.4 billion in revenue, according to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, a 41% increase from the figure recorded in 2020-21[4]. This buoyant trend in the sector has enabled the GoI to set ambitious targets both in terms of output, and revenue – an export revenue target of USD 100 billion by 2030. Apprised of the role of technology in ensuring the accomplishment of such steep targets, India has also been incentivising the adoption of digital solutions by all stakeholders in the textile value chain.

Digitisation of the natural fibre ecosystem is not merely desirable but a prerequisite if India is to optimise the capabilities of its enormous workforce and the abundance of resources feeding the textile sector in the country.

(Mayank Tiwari is the Founder and CEO of ReshaMandi, a B2B marketplace for fashion and textiles in India)

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Business India News

Textile exports target $100 bn mark in five years

The Textiles Secretary said that along with the PLI scheme, the government is committed to make the Prime Minister Mega Integrated Textile Region and Apparel (PM MITRA) scheme a success…reports Asian Lite News

India’s textile exports can breach the $100 bn mark in next 5 years, Union Textiles Secretary, Upendra Prasad Singh said on Tuesday.

“The country’s textile exports can increase from the current $40 billion to $100 billion in the next five years,” he said in his address at the 44th Foundation Day of Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC).

Singh said that the Indian apparel industry must focus on vertical integration to increase its scale and size and to benefit from the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme.

“Apparel and garmenting is not very investment-centric but it is very important from an employment point of view. Perhaps, there is a need for backward integration and more of you can get into integrated value-chain like spinning and weaving,” he said.

The Textiles Secretary said that along with the PLI scheme, the government is committed to make the Prime Minister Mega Integrated Textile Region and Apparel (PM MITRA) scheme a success.

“Idea is not to just have a world class infrastructure but also a thriving industry there. There are a lot of big opportunities. The demand continues to be robust and the China plus one sourcing strategy by the west is certainly a great opportunity for us,” he added.

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India, Italy to deepen ties in railways, textile

The progress on the outcomes of the India-EU leaders Summit in Porto, Portugal was also reviewed…reports Asian Lite News.

To facilitate trade and investment, India and Italy on Friday discussed issues related to market access and non-tariff barriers. This development took place during the 21st session of Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation between India and Italy.

Piyush Goyal, Commerce and Industry Minister and Luigi Di Maio, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy co-chaired the Session.

The two sides also held extensive discussion in the areas of food processing, textiles, leather, railways, start-ups and promotion of SMEs which play a crucial role in economic growth and employment generation.

The progress on the outcomes of the India-EU leaders Summit in Porto, Portugal was also reviewed.

Indian side also raised the issues of Mutual recognition of COWIN Vaccine Certificate and opening up of Travel restrictions, longer duration of Business Visas and Portability of social security benefits of Indians working in Italy.

Following the India-Italy JCEC G2G Meeting, a G2B Session focusing on Energy partnership was held virtually in the presence of the two Ministers.

During the meeting, three Indian companies (Indian Oil Corporation, Adani Solar, ReNew Power) and 3 Italian companies (Enel Green Power, Snam, Maire Tecnimont) made presentations focusing on the areas of green economy, clean technology and promotion of use of renewable energy for grid-based multi-energy systems.

During the Session, both the Ministers reiterated the vision laid down by the Prime Ministers of India and Italy, under the Plan of Action adopted on November 6, 2020, to promote energy transition, leveraging technology and climate partnerships.

They underscored the pioneering role played by India and Italy at the multilateral fora as early adopters of ambitious clean energy targets and invited the private and public sectors of both countries to explore synergies to further enhance mutual energy capacities. (India News Network)

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Unique Indian Textile In The Pandemic Era

The textile sector is one of the biggest contributors to the national economy and a large employment generator… Avinash Mane interacts with Puja Gupta.

Pandemic tried to put a full stop for most of our industries, but the continuous effort and support of technology really helped such to come back. Clothes are one of the basic needs of human existence, which is why even during lockdown, the apparel industry witnessed a steady demand. Demand from Western markets helped the Indian Textile sector stay afloat, says Avinash Mane, Commercial Director, South Asia, Lenzing Group.

Mane shares his views on the challenges the Indian textile industry faced due to the pandemic and what role technology has to play in the future of the apparel industry.

Avinash Mane, Commercial Director, South Asia, Lenzing Group.

How has the Indian textile industry responded to the challenges experienced by Covid-19 over the past year?

The textile sector is one of the biggest contributors to the national economy and a large employment generator. India’s textile sector is unique with it being one of the finest in the world producing around 15 per cent of total industrial production and contributing around 30 per cent to total exports.

The sector did face its share of challenges over the last year. While the domestic retail went on pause last summer, the export orders from European and American region also dried. But despite the issues, the industry has kept afloat. Specially post the first wave when orders from western countries started flowing in. The recovery, which was export driven, was visible from early this year. Clothes are one of the basic needs of human existence, which is why even during lockdown, the online apparel industry witnessed a steady demand.

According to a recent report by the Indian Ratings and Research agency (Ind-Ra), the non-availability of inputs such as fabric, yarns etc due to lockdown related restrictions may cause a short-term impact on the finished output in the sector, however it is unlikely to impact the Indian textile sector.

As mentioned, demand from western markets helped the Indian Textile sector stay afloat. Ind-Ra stated that due to strong export markets, the first quarter of the current financial year may not be a ‘lost quarter’ for the textile sector. Covid-19 and lockdown has also been a deep learning experience for the textile industry who responded with agility by working out adequate inventory and we believe will help the sector bounce back sooner than expected.

Recently, Lenzing announced its business results for first quarter. The group has seen good growth for its TENCEL lyocell and modal fibers as well as LENZING ECOVERO viscose fibers. The Indian region has been a key contributor to this.

The sector has also received promising support from the government through innovative schemes such as planned mega textile parks, giving it the necessary impetus to become competitive, attract large investments through the creation of world-class infrastructure.

Do you feel that the Indian textile industry has fared better than other regions in terms of business? If yes, why?

The Covid-19 pandemic also put a spotlight on the untapped textile potential of South Asian region. It has given an opportunity to countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia to become a potential global centre for textile and clothing exports. Availability of abundant and cheap labour, water and other raw materials for textile manufacturing processes, large production of cotton, nearness to growing markets have further helped this.

Covid-19 has given rise to a new type of consumer thus pushing products and services to recreate themselves. Do you believe this is true for textile ad apparels as well? Please elaborate.

The Covid-19 crisis gave rise to a more conscious consumer. There has been a significant change in consumer attitudes and shopping behaviour and most of these are expected to remain post-pandemic. The lockdown forced consumers to analyse their shopping habits, including cost consciousness, preference for local products, evaluating the impact of their purchases, which ultimately leads to making sustainable choices.

Consumer preferences sharply realigned away from lifestyle to health, hygiene and personal care. Value of hygiene increased significantly thus paving the way for products that promote hygiene thus assuring consumers with greater safety from the virus.

What is interesting to note that fibre features such as microbial resistance became a key focus for the textile manufacturers and brands. These were earlier considered as add-on features, the use of which was restricted to special segments like sportswear.

Apparel brands grew their portfolios to add masks as they became a staple product. Demand from the medical industry increased demand for non-woven textile significantly. These are key ingredients in creating masks, wipes and PPE kits. We foresee this demand to sustain in the near future and contribute to the sector.

Do you believe that technology will have a greater role within the textile industry in a post Covid-19 era?

We believe technology will play a key role in reviving, rejuvenating, and reinvigorating the Indian textile industry. Undoubtedly, technology’s support is vital to any sector but when it comes to textile, it becomes even more important.

Consumers are keen to know about the origin and journey of their products. This is driving up the demand for traceability by brands and consumers alike which is further driving the increasing use of AI and IoT within the sector. To address this demand Lenzing collaborated with TextileGenesis and introduced a brand-new blockchain-enabled supply chain traceability platform in 2020.

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