The new AISA programme is designed to offer direct help to Indian clothing companies seeking to boost and introduce sustainable practices

The new AISA programme is designed to offer direct help to Indian clothing companies seeking to boost and introduce sustainable practices

The chairman of India's Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) has told just-style how a new national sustainability programme should help Indian clothing exporters become more competitive.

Ashok Rajani says last month's launch by AEPC of an Indian Apparel Industry Sustainability Programme (AISA) is important because incorporating sustainability in apparel production systems is no longer a choice but a necessity.

This is not just because of compliance with legislative reforms tightening controls on the environment and pollution, he says, but because of growing awareness among consumers and buyers increasing demand for sustainable products.

The AISA programme is designed to offer direct help to companies seeking to boost and introduce sustainable practices, encouraging them to better document and monitor new environmentally-friendly systems. Also, the programme will help industry members develop phased targets for sustainability goals, boosting clean production capacity.

"The project aims to harness the industry's collective energy, adaptability and capacity for innovation. Through this initiative we can play an important role in creating a sustainable low carbon economy," Rajani explains. 

Incorporated in 1978, AEPC is the official body of apparel exporters in India, providing assistance to apparel exporters and international buyers who make India their sourcing destination.

Apparel export growth

Ready-made garments accounted for 41% of the value of India's total textile and garment exports in the 2015-16 financial year, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation. And with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government's pushing to expand textile production through its Make in India drive, apparel exports could grow quickly.

"India is at a critical stage in the export growth path and there is great opportunity for the apparel industry to increase its market share. But any new market strategy is incomplete without ensuring sustainable production systems.

AEPC has introduced AISA with an aim to improve the positioning of India as a responsible sourcing destination

AEPC has, therefore, introduced AISA with an aim to improve the positioning of India as a responsible sourcing destination," Rajani told just-style.

He adds: "I think it is a great opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves in the global market and offer a sustainable value chain. Initiatives like AISA should lend competitiveness to the industry by synergising resource optimisation, operational efficiencies and better stakeholder participation."

While some major Indian apparel producers have proactively adopted sustainable practices in keeping with global demand and trends, there is less awareness and, therefore, willingness among smaller businesses to go green.

Part of this reluctance is cost. The bulk of India's apparel industry is still comprised of micro-small-and-medium sized enterprises (MSME) who may struggle to spend on capital intensive sustainable technologies. One AISA aim is identifying financially viable options for them.

Meanwhile, AEPC, along with New Delhi-based sustainability advisory firm cKinetics, has developed a comprehensive guide on energy management and optimisation.

"The guidance tool will help the industry understand the opportunities as also the ways to achieve them," Rajani told just-style. It stresses the importance of documentation: "There are many units across the country which have adopted sustainable systems but very few document or monitor them."

It also advises manufacturers on how to target their resource sustainability efforts. Three major areas highlighted for action include electricity and fuel management; water and waste water management; and good environmental housekeeping, including conservation training, checking for leaks, record keeping, general maintenance and chemical management.

The document lists the environmental and monetary impact of suggested corrective measures. It also shows how the non-quantifiable impact of these actions can boost overall efficiency.

A recent event also heard how India's hopes of capturing more business within the international textile and clothing market lie in expanding its man-made fibre (MMF) production – combined with innovative product design, improved labour laws, quick delivery systems and drastically improved logistics.

Next steps for India as an international sourcing hub?