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India’s Textiles Adapt to China

NEW DELHI — Like every other textile-producing nation, India is scurrying to compete against China.<br><br>Indian manufacturers believe their combination of ancient handicraft traditions and modern technology will help them retain their global...

NEW DELHI — Like every other textile-producing nation, India is scurrying to compete against China.

Indian manufacturers believe their combination of ancient handicraft traditions and modern technology will help them retain their global markets when global quota restrictions on textile trade cease in 2005.

“Our products cannot be manufactured by machines alone,” said Jitendra Sadh of J.K. International, a participant at the Tex-Styles India 2003 show from Feb. 28-March 3 in New Delhi. “That’s why we’re still around — otherwise, China would have finished us by now.”

New Delhi-based J.K. International exports a range of fashion accessories for women, including scarves, shawls, belts, bags, hats and costume jewelry. Fabrics used for the scarves and shawls are wool, viscose and silk. Export markets for this small, family-owned company, established in 1988, are mainly the European Union and the United States.

The four-day Tex-Styles India show, now into its ninth year, had about 300 companies participating — slightly more than the 280 last year. Displaying mainly fabric and home furnishings but also yarn, trimmings and embellishments, the annual fair is meant to showcase India’s vast textile industry for exports.

Officials of the India Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO), which organizes Tex-Styles India, said the show has seen a steady increase in overseas visitors year after year. This year’s show attracted 2,575 foreign buyers from 81 countries and 700 buying agents based in India, up from 2,250 foreign buyers last year and 600 India-based agents from 75 countries. Business orders valued at $35.7 million were placed during the four-day event this year, compared with $32.5 million last year.

India is the second-largest producer of textiles in the world after China, but its share of global textiles trade is small because the country’s one-billion-plus population provides a huge domestic market. Overall, India has a 2.8 percent share of global textiles trade, but it leads in yarn with a significant 22 percent share, while in fabrics it captures 3.2 percent and in apparel, 2 percent. With core competence in cotton, India is self-reliant in textiles and produces everything from yarn to finished apparel.

India’s overall textile exports were down by 11 percent to $10.7 billion in the year ending March 31, 2002. Textile exports in the current fiscal ending March 31 are expected to touch $13 billion, and the country is ambitiously targeting $50 billion by 2010. The strength of the Indian textile industry, particularly in apparel and subsectors such as home furnishings, is the ability to manufacture small volumes of products according to buyer specifications.

“India can supply importers with specific designs in fabrics and in small volumes,” said G. Ram Kumar, a marketing executive with Eastern Silk Industries Ltd., which exports silk fabrics to the United States and Europe.

Though China is a serious competitor for Indian textiles, companies like Eastern Silk are not averse to importing silk yarn from the country. Indian imports of Chinese silk yarn, which manufacturers say is of better quality than the domestic variety, are gradually increasing.

A study by McKinsey & Company for the Indian Cotton Textile Export Promotion Council warned last year that the Indian textile sector runs the risk of being left behind by competitors like China and Pakistan, and listed such key areas of concern as cost competitiveness across products and weakness in quality and service parameters. Participants at the Tex-Styles India show were aware they need to upgrade their production methods and technology to survive, and most said their companies were already doing so.

As Kashmir Export House found out, using modern methods also meant that the company could cater to a different segment of the market. According to managing director Ajaz R. Nanda, Kashmir Export House specializes in supplying fabrics with intricate embroidery done by families in northern Jammu and Kashmir state. The centuries-old tradition of crewel work, done by hand, makes the fabric expensive, which is why it is aimed at the higher end of the market. However, by installing machines in a factory in New Delhi, Kashmir Export House found it could cut costs and supply embroidered fabric to the lower end of the market, as well.

While foreign visitor response to the show was generally favorable, some said there was room for improvement.

“The layout of the show is very confusing,” said Joachim Klaushenke from the German company J.J.K. Fine Furniture. “It is hard to find a specific booth.” Klaushenke, however, acknowledged that ITPO had managed to clean up the halls, which used to be very dirty.

The complaint was echoed by at least one regular participant. Satya Paul, who owns Paul Salon, said Tex-Styles India was a “hodgepodge” affair and needed toning up. The trade fair organization appears interested only in selling space, Paul said, adding he had no lights in his booth on the first day, and had to complain several times before they were provided. “There should be a change in attitude,” he added.