Indian Prime Minister Modi tours the exhibition.

GANDHINAGAR, India — Setting out a series of target for India’s textile industry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off Textiles India 2017 here, a three-day event that was the biggest show of strength by the $110 billion industry, India’s second-largest employer after agriculture.

The textile and apparel industry provides direct employment to more than 45 million people and indirect employment to another 60 million.

Modi noted that the domestic market for apparel and lifestyle products is worth $85 billion and is expected to grow to $160 billion by 2025. “This growth will be driven by the rising middle class,” he said. “We have one of the most liberal investment policies for foreign investment in the textile and apparel sector. We allow 100 percent foreign direct investment through automatic route in the textile and apparel sector. I think the time has now come for us to concentrate on textile exports in a big way.”

India is the world’s second-largest exporter of textiles, after China with an estimated $40 billion in the year ending March 31, 2017. Apparel exports accounted for an estimated $17 billion, making India the sixth-largest exporter of garments in the world.

The textile industry is expected to create about 35 million additional jobs by 2024-25, with exports rising from $39 billion to $300 billion by that time.

Gautam Singhania, chairman and managing director of the Raymond Group, described the event itself as an “unprecedented platform for the industry to showcase its capabilities, products and services.”

David Cummings, president and chief executive officer of US Polo Association, spoke at the inauguration, describing Arvind Mills Ltd. as one of the brand’s top licencees worldwide. “Arvind is the most innovative of all our licencees worldwide,” he said, explaining that one of the advantages of Arvind was that it stretches from fiber to fabric, fabric to garments and also understands retail. “Their concept is in line with our global thinking and many of our innovations come from their thinking,” he said.

Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, spoke about the historic opportunity to grow India’s market share in global exports as China decreased production. “We must step up rigor and skill development, build on innovation, increase investment in state of the art technology,” he said.

Modi also said innovation and research in the textile sector would boost exports and called for a focus on organic products. “We should catalogue and map our clothing diversity and clearly earmark strengths and specialties of each state or region. Today, there is a demand for products with zero carbon footprint. ‘Holistic lifestyle’ has become a buzzword. The market for organic dyes, clothes and fabrics made of organic products is growing. Our effort should be to innovate in organic products.

“Be it silk from Kanchipuram, Varanasi and Assam or pashmina from Kashmir, muslin of Bengal, chikan work of Lucknow, handwoven ikat work of Odisha and Telangana, Patan’s Patola from Gujarat or shawls from Kutch — from centuries these textile traditions have given an identity to these regions. You will never find this diversity in any other nation,” he said.

Other panelists included Sanjay Lalbhai, chairman and managing director of Arvind Ltd.; Kihak Sung, chairman of the Korea Federation of Textile Industries, and Richard Heald of the U.K. India Business Council, among others.

Textiles minister Smriti Zubin Irani spoke confidently about bringing together textiles, traditions and technology. She said global citizens from 106 countries, 15,000 Indian buyers and sellers, 2,500 international buyers, international delegates and representatives and artisans and weavers who “enthrall us with their craft have come together under one roof on this occasion,” making the next step easier.

More than 65 memorandums of understanding were signed at the event, she said, including collaborations with Australia and China.

The initiative was a collaborative effort of 24 Export Promotion Councils under the Ministry of Textiles and with the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Ironically, two days before the conference, textile merchants started a shut down of their shops in Ahmedabad, which is an important textile center, and is about 15 miles from Gandhinagar. The protests were against the goods and services tax that was to go into effect on July 1.

Among the series of discussions at the Gandhinagar event, which closed Sunday, there were specific country-focus sessions. On Saturday, a session on Russia, for example, brought out the fact that the country’s high import duties impeded exports from India and that problems were further compounded by language issues and procedural delays at customs.

Putting to rest a long-standing complaint by designers that they weren’t given enough recognition, the event brought together leading designers with two major fashion shows organized by IMG Reliance Pvt Ltd., which organizes Lakme Fashion Week.

On Friday, the show called Symphony of Weaves was the story of textiles in India and used cotton, silk, wools, embroidery, hand-dyed and handprinted, modern/industrial and futuristic sustainable textiles of India. This included the works of more than 30 designers, many of whom were present at the event, including Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Malhotra, Ritu Kumar and others.

The Indian Handloom show, meanwhile, featured looks from a combination of designers and labels from across India, focusing on the theme of handlooms that the prime minister has been championing since 2015.

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