India's garment industry is betting on technology as one of the major catalysts for growth in the post quota world, although the country still needs to move fast to improve its highly fragmented textile supply chain. Sapna Arora pays a visit to Mumbai-based manufacturer The Shirt Co.

The Indian apparel industry took off in the mid 60s and is now worth around $15 billion. Its growth over the years has been significant, and modern technology has had a large role to play. In fact, the industry has evolved gradually in terms of technology adoption and has now reached a critical mass.

The country's 10-year goal, set out in the government's New Textile Policy, targets an annual export figure of $50 billion by the year 2010. Garment exports are India's single largest foreign exchange earner; the industry is growing at around 15 per cent a year; and the aim is for this growth to continue.

India is turning out to be one of the countries benefiting most in the post quota world, along with China, although the country still needs to move fast to upgrade its technology and improve its highly fragmented textile supply chain.

However, the Indian industry is amongst the few in the world that is truly vertically integrated from raw material to finished products, embracing everything from fibre production and spinning, to knitting and weaving, as well as apparel manufacture.

Maximised opportunities
In recent years there have been several prominent changes that have considerably impacted the apparel supply chain.

1) Vertical integration of raw material producers. India and China have long been among the largest producers of cotton fibre, exporting low-value items such as fibre or yarn to developed nations from which fabric and garments were made.

However, because the profit margins are highest in the last two stages of the apparel supply chain, the realisation dawned on these countries to integrate vertically. One of the key enablers was the countries' low-cost structure, but the situation in India is changing.

India has emerged as a major sourcing base of cotton apparel worldwide and most of the leading US retailers such as Gap, JC Penney and Nordstrom have set up sourcing offices there. Some of the by-products of this shift have been:

2) Technology upgrades. The strict quality demands on the Indian apparel industry by the developed world have led the industry to dispose of archaic technology such as ring spinners, shuttle looms and manual sewing machines. The adoption of the latest open-end spinning, air jet looms and CAD/CAM has ensured companies can deliver on the complex requirements of their clients worldwide.

3) Change in quality perception. The western world has started to perceive India as a producer of quality apparel. Compliance with global quality norms such as ISO 9000, SA8000 and Oekotex Certification have enabled Indian manufacturers to push up the premium.

4) Employment generation. Along with the technology sector, the apparel industry has emerged as one of the key employment generators.

5) Emergence of processing and finishing centres. Finishing is a critical step in the apparel supply chain as it governs not only the touch and feel of the fabric but also the silhouette and drape of the sewn clothing as well.

It is a technology-intensive sector of the industry as processing requires controlled treatment of the fabric under specific ambient conditions. Traditionally, the high investment required in setting up a processing unit was a deterrent to growth in the emerging economies. But with recent structural changes in the apparel supply chain specialist processing centres have emerged.

Hong Kong is arguably one of the biggest processing centres of the world. Being strategically located close to the raw material (fibre, yarn) producers and the finished goods (fabric, apparel) producers gives it a unique advantage.

India has been a late entrant to the field of processing, primarily because most of the equipment had to be imported and at prohibitive import duties. That has changed in recent years.

The Shirt Co
One of the best examples to illustrate the importance of a fully vertical integrated set up, the latest machinery and a focus on value added garments is The Shirt Co based in Mumbai.

The Shirt Co was one of technology's early adopters. "We were one of the first to adopt CAD solutions for improving fabric utilisation and pattern generation," says Mr Shetty, the company's founder. It has actively upgraded its manufacturing facilities by going in for selective automation, especially where there is also a quality upgradation, he added. The Shirt Co is known for providing eco-friendly products.

Since it was established in 1984, The Shirt Co has grown its manufacturing facilities and now has a team of about 5000 employees. It has an annual capacity of 4 million garments, and has expanded into a group of companies: Manipal Apparels (Bangalore), Together Textile (Coimbatore), The Best Sellers (Manipal), Strawberries India (Manipal), and SBS clothing Co (New Mumbai).

Mr Sachin Pai, founder of The Best Sellers, explains: "Our policy is to invest selectively in the latest technology, which gives product and productivity benefits. This includes suitable technology tie-ups with companies abroad."

The Best Sellers was set up in 2000 in Manipal, South India, and covers an area of 65,000 sq ft. It employs around 1000 people and produces 120,000 pieces per month of finished garments for men's, ladies and children. Its customers include Freemans, Pepe Jeans, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica Jeans, Espirit, She, Casablanca, and Tom Tailor.

The company has invested in the latest machinery and experienced technical staff to handle the quality products.

Machinery List at the Best Sellers
Type of machinery
Qty
Make
Model No
Cutting Machines
 
 
 
Straight Knife
6
Eastman
629 x 8"
Band knife
1
Wastema
01-492
Round Knife
2
Eastman
225-4H(4")
End cutter
2
Eastman
EC-3
Sewing Machines
 
 
 
1) Single needle
 
 
 
 
140
Brother
DB2- B102
 
200
Brother
DD7100-403(B40)
 
8
Brother
DD7100-403(B100)
 
30
Brother
DB2-B737-413 MK-II(F40)
 
30
Singer
191 D 300 AA
2) Double Needle
 
 
 
Lock stitch
23
Brother
LT2-B842
 
13
Brother
LT2-B845
 
6
Typical
GC 6240
Flat bed chain stitch 6 Brother DT2 - B962
6
Brother
DT2 - B962
Feed off the arm
6
Brother
DT6 - B 927
3) Multi needle
2
Kansai(Special)
DFB-1404 PMD
4) Button hole
 
 
 
Automatic button hole
2
Brother
LH4 - B814-2MK II
Eyelet button hole
1
Reece(AMF)
BAS 511
Eyelet button hole
1
Durkopp Adler
S100 - 030
5) Bartack
9
Brother
0558 - 231 - 391
6) Button stitch
11
Brother
LK3-B438E
7) Overlocking - 3 threads
1
Pegasus
M752-16S2
 
1
Typical
GN2000-3E
8) Overlocking -5 threads
 
 
 
 
38
Brother Typical
MA4-N31-063-5
 
6
 
GN 2000-5
9) Single needle lockstitch
5
Durkopp Adler
5 X 272 - 140342
 
2
Durkopp Adler
2 X 275 - 140342
10) Edge cutter
13
Brother
DB2 B777 - 3A
 
2
Typical
GC 6170
11) Snap button
6
Typical
TKM ZN 90
 
6
YKK
YKK - G.N.S
Other Machines
 
 
 
1) Collar turning & blocking
4
Ngai Shing
NS - 81
 
3
Ngai Shing
NS-53
2) Cuff turning & blocking
4
Ngai Shing
NS-85
 
3
Ngai Shing
NS-46
3) Fusing
1
Hashima
ED-1000
 
1
Hashima
400C
 
1
Aura
AG 700
4) Needle detector
 
 
 

Conveyor type

1
Hashima
HN-610C
 
1
Hashima
HN-620C
Handy type
1
Hashima
HN-25
5) Embroidery
 
 
 
4 head
1
SWF
SWF/C-WD 904-55
12 head
2
SWF
SWF/B/WK 912-100
12 head
2
Creative
Special - 912
Local M/c(Zig Zag)
10
 
 
6) Screen Printing M/c
1 set
MHM
Sychnoprint - "S" Type 14x12
7) Sticker printing M/c
1
DCC
C-800
8) Appliqué cutting M/c
3
RVR politico
RAC DXD2
9) Fabric checking
1
Ramson
 
10) Thread sucking
2
Ramson
 
11) Pattern Cutter
1
Luna
K-1
12) Thread winding M/c
1
Tony
TI-3900

Other areas where technology has been adopted within the company include washing and sandblasting facilities to help maintain maximum quality in terms of garment finishes. The company uses software solutions for industrial engineering and aims to improve productivity to be on par with the best in the world.

It also has a separate environmental division to take care of the unit's environmental quality, including an effluent recycling plant achieving zero discharge. The effluent generated from dyeing and other wet processing is taken directly to the effluent collection tank through separate underground trenches for further treatment.

This increasing awareness of technological investment among Indian exporters and a focus on value added garments is on course to give India a winning edge in the world.

Sapna Arora has several years' experience in sourcing fabrics and garments for some of the leading retailers. She currently works in the UK office of a global apparel supply chain company and specialises in understanding the sourcing patterns of both US and EU businesses.