By  on July 6, 2010

JOHANNESBURG — In five years, the annual India Clothing & Textile Mega Trade Show, held in the key South African cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, has grown to 42 from 18 exhibitors.

The trade show, organized by India’s Apparel Export Promotion Council, highlights the deepening industry ties between India and South Africa. At the end of this year’s shows, footfall was recorded at 1,250, with buyers from the major retail chains in South Africa, among them Woolworths, Truworths, Mr Price, Edgars, Guess and Foschini, paying a visit. According to AEPC, at least 10 exporters reported having taken orders on the spot.

India is emerging as a powerhouse in the global textile industry. Its clothing and textile sector continues to grow, with the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India now counting 20,000 members. By 2011, the Indian textile sector is estimated to reach about $90 billion. After China, India ranks second in worldwide textile development. According to Durban-based textile industry analyst and consultant Renato Palmi, in the last quarter of 2009, India’s $5 billion textile export sector had marginal drops due to the global recession and declining orders from the U.S. and Europe.

“India’s industry is not immune to global economic shifts, but its government has been proactive in allocating around $510 million to assist domestic textile companies last year,” Palmi said.

The South African textile industry has not fared as well. Palmi said it could learn a lot from India, “particularly with regard to the integration of textile into design.”

He said, “The industry in South Africa is still fragmented. There is no close cooperation between designers and textile manufacturers, whereas in India, both sectors work closely together, offering products with added value. Moreover, the strong support the Indian government extends to its textile and apparel sector could encourage government and industry to work closer together in South Africa.”

Durban is home to the largest population of Indians or South Africans of Indian descent outside of India. Numbering over 1 million, they comprise around 2 percent of South Africa’s total population, yet they represent considerable economic power.

“They are becoming more sophisticated as a market,” said Palmi. “You didn’t see saris or Nehru jackets, instead you saw very Westernized fashions. The Indian clothing manufacturers clearly know their market.”

India is also striving to dispel its image as a producer of cheap clothing and textiles, said Deidre Hart, the Cape Town-based organizer of the India Clothing & Textile Trade Show in South Africa.

“This is a high-end trade fair,” Hart said. “It provides an excellent opportunity for serious buyers and sellers to build business relationships, and the delegations from India also include trend forecasters.”

Contrary to fears from South African industry skeptics that Indian manufacturers were out to “dump” cheap clothing into the country, Hart said, “Indian manufacturers have gradually worked to position themselves in the niche market for quality and have gained acceptance by meeting the demands of South African buyers.

“Quite a lot of exhibitors come out for joint ventures,” she said. “They are looking to import raw materials from S.A., such as yarns and wools, and then reexporting the finished garments back to S.A.”

Palmi agreed, “The Indians don’t want to undermine local industry and they don’t want to be known as cheap suppliers to the market. They are more interested in sharing their knowledge with local partners.”

South Africa represents a huge market for India, Palmi noted, adding there are Indians throughout the African continent, and “India can use South Africa as a springboard into the [Southern African Development Community] and the rest of Africa.”

According to AEPC chairman Premal Udani, Indian exports of ready-made garments to South Africa rose 12.71 percent to $9.5 million in 2008.

“India has a lot of potential to increase its exports,” Udani said.

There are a few snags, however, such as South Africa recently raising the duty on clothing to 45 from 40 percent. Duty on fabrics remains at 26 percent.

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