Hit by a dip in apparel exports last year, some exporters are keen to look beyond apparel and explore opportunities in the recession-proof areas of industrial and technical wear.
Although the apparel export market has picked up in the last quarter, exporters do not want to depend solely on apparel for business. For instance, the country's biggest apparel exporter Gokaldas Exports sees significant value in manufacturing garments for industrial wear – such as uniform for security agencies, army, the fire services etc.
“Industrial wear is a $3-billion business in the world. Most of it is manufactured in China, Taiwan, Korea and the US. While in India, a few companies cater to the domestic requirements, not many exporters are involved in it in a big way.
“We are trying to explore this deeper. We have had discussions with a couple of companies in Europe and the US and orders will materialise soon,” says Mr Rajendra Hinduja, Managing Director, Gokaldas Exports.
Industrial and technical textiles come with heavy twills and special finishes. They are mainly coated fabrics (cotton and cotton blends) and some have anti-inflammatory properties.
Bangalore-based Sona Valliappa Textiles sees a lot of scope in export of hospital wear and technical clothing and textiles such as fire-retardant clothing and filter fabrics for the automotive industry.
It already supplies technical textiles to the domestic market to companies such as Mico and Bosch. The company is now looking to sew up joint ventures with European mills to explore opportunities in this specialised segment, says Mr Thiagaraj Valliappa, Executive Director, Sona Valliappa Textiles, which has create a separate B2B division for technical clothing.
While apparel may be driven mainly by fashion, specialty textiles and ‘smart' garments (as technical clothing is called) are a necessity and thus present a good market opportunity for Indian exporters.
Says Mr D. K. Nair, Secretary-General, Confederation of Indian Textile Industry, “While initially, exporters can import fabric from South-East Asia and China to make technical products, they can look at setting up production facilities once a critical mass is achieved.
“With rising security concerns, the demand for bullet-proof jackets and fire retardant clothing will only go up. Exporters can also get good pricing for garments like bullet-proof jackets which cost several lakhs.”Govt thrust.
There is a big thrust on technical textiles from the Government. The Union Textile Ministry has launched a national technology mission for technical textiles. There is also 5 per cent interest compensation and a 10 per cent upfront capital subsidy for technical textiles, according to Mr Nair.
“Norms for technical textiles are reasonably well laid-out; passing of projects is faster and the clearance of financial aid is easier,” says Mr Thiagaraj.While the scope is good, it's still early days for Indian exporters in this space and it may take quite some time before India matches the likes of China. But it's not an impossible task altogether, industry players concur.