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Keys to Growth for India’s Apparel Industry

About 70 million people work directly or indirectly in the textiles and apparel sector, making it the second-largest employer in the country after agriculture.

GENEVA — The biggest chance for India’s apparel industry to counter the growth of regional Asian competitors is to use the wealth of human capital in the country’s information technology sector to tap the growing trend toward customized e-fit manufacturing, and the surge in e-tailing, a leading executive said.

“Already a number of foreign designers are beginning to work with Styku — a U.S.-based company run by Indians — which is a trading e-fit company, to source from India on digital platforms, cutting down what we call the Zara-fication of the fashion industry. Product life cycles have become shorter. Fashion life cycles are faster. To counter that, digital systems are being used by a number of companies, and are beginning to become an important trend, and I think this will be the biggest chance India has,” said Darlie Koshy, director-general and chief executive officer of the Institute of Apparel Management, based in Gurgaon.

He conceded that countries such as Bangladesh have become $20 billion-plus exporters in the sector while India is under $14 billion, and noted competitors such as Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam have all grown, and are beginning to take away India’s share in the under-$4 or -$5 garments segment.

Koshy said about 70 million people work directly or indirectly in the textiles and apparel sector in India, making it the second-largest employer in the country after agriculture.

“It cannot stay in that regime and try to protect its market share. It will have to move up the value chain,” Koshy said.

There is an increasing acceptance that India’s textiles and apparel exports need to diversify from 12 current products into a bigger basket. He noted that China, in comparison, has about 130 items in its apparel exports of about $160 billion a year.

He said the bulk of Indian firms — 60 to 70 percent — are at the lower end of the market, especially in knitwear.

What has probably prevented many companies from moving up the value chain, he said in an interview on the sidelines of a forum on Innovation by Design hosted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, has been the huge growth in the Indian domestic market, which includes a 350 million-strong middle class, and a 500 million-plus youth element.

Looking ahead, Koshy said he believes the conclusion of negotiations on a free-trade Agreement between India and the European Union “will be the single most important thing which will transform exports of apparel from India to another level.

“If that happens, there will be a 30 to 40 percent jump in Indian exports automatically, because Europe is the largest market for Indian garments.”

He was optimistic the India-EU talks, launched in June 2007, could be concluded by November or December, and that textiles and apparel will be part of the pact, and there will be no back-loaded scheme for the sector.