As Pakistan moves forward to further liberalise trade with India (a positive move), one comes across this quiet kind of confidence in the Pakistani textile sector about its ability to compete successfully with its Indian counterpart; of course, if it is provided with a level playing field.
No harm, since confidence and perception are key hallmarks of any business success story, and more importantly if the growth in Pakistan’s textiles has to be sustainable, then the sector needs to achieve this by competing against the best in this business. However, often one has seen that confidence if not accompanied by prudence can easily lead to complacency.
And given Pakistan’s industrial track record, one cannot help but notice that it is in being complacent, and not being proactive and innovative where our weakness lies. While we may be ready to compete with India in the traditional items based on comparative costs, quality and designs, it is the long-term vision where we seem to be way behind.
A significant portion of future global growth and profitability is going to come from endeavours that save on energy and natural resources, and are environmentally friendly, ‘Green Textile Production’, as it is referred to. And this is where India appears to be far ahead of us in comparison.
Scientists from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi, are close to releasing a type of fabric in the market that will not pick up dirt and even if it does after prolonged use, it can be washed with sunlight. At the heart of this experiment lies nanotechnology, which is being applied by Indian scientists to improve the performance of textiles; something that is generating global interest.
Nano stands for one billionth of a meter. The nature’s nanotechnology has been perfected over a billion of years. For example, the self-cleaning properties found in the nano-structured surface of lotus leaves are natural designs, referred to as the ‘Lotus Leave Effect’.
Going forward based on this, the coating of nano titanium dioxide particles on clothes has ‘photocatalytic properties’, which can break direct particles in the presence of sunlight. If this works, dirty clothes can be ‘cleaned’ by merely putting them in the sun. The cloth will also not pick up any dirt because of nano particles.
Yet, another fabric that IIT is researching is based on nano-composite polymer coating, which will have improved strength and gas barrier property. Once developed, it can be useful in key defence applications, e.g. inflatable gear requirements in aerostat and aerial delivery systems.
Research and Development on other new textiles areas, being actively pushed by India’s Textile Ministry include Antibacterial, UV (Ultraviolet light) protective and water repellent breathable fabrics. A range of antimicrobial textile finishes and products based on nano-silver have already been commercialised and are finding use in the medical sector, such as sutures and wound dressings and other health and hygiene textiles.
Over the last decade, India has been the blue chip for the fast evolving retail sector that is riding high on the lifestyle products, especially fashion apparels, home textiles, jewellery and footwear. Today, the size of its retail sector that sells mainly via brand outlets and malls is approximately $30 billion. Nearly 30 percent of this turnover is for the major lifestyle products, including apparels and textiles.
The steady growth of the retail sector and the growing consumer preference of branded lifestyle products, especially the branded apparel and innerwear, is the impact the now open Indian economy is having from the Western markets. The onslaught of branded fashion wear has also created a stream of premium products carrying the green theme by way of textiles of natural or organic materials.
Driven by the increasing demand from the global Multinational Corporations (MNC) retailers, the green theme in India is the fastest growing textile sector (both in terms of volume and value) and has created a plethora of new and innovative fibre blends and blended yarn fabrics, which are in vogue by the fashion industry.
A direct impact of this green movement in Indian textiles can be gauged by the increasing interest and growing demand for organic cottons, which are now being grown in selective farming areas in central India under the supervision of accreditation agencies, such as Organic Exchange (OE) and Oeko Tex. India has become the largest producer of organic cottons at 25-30,000 tons per annum, with a share of nearly 25 percent in global organic cotton production.
If Pakistan’s textiles are to go the ‘next’ step, then our industry like its counterpart in India, needs to become increasingly aware of the sustainable production challenges. The global demand for textiles, especially lifestyle and premium fashion products, is being driven strongly by a very large ‘youth’ population (below the average age of 30 years old, as per the survey by American Textiles’ Consumers Association). This group is educated, well employed, fashion savvy and has the necessary disposable income for indulging in consumer tastes, influenced by ethical, moral and responsible behaviour. Meaning that, they are sensitive to global warming and green movements.
The Indian Textile Ministry and manufacturers both have become increasingly aware of the sustainable production and global growth challenges, which can primarily be countered by developing products that conserve energy and natural resources, are environmentally friendly and are organic in nature in order to minimise pollution, effluents and the process usage of hazardous materials. Pakistan also needs to follow suit.
It is all very well for our textile industry to moan and cry about gas shortages, etc, which one agrees need to be resolved at least in the short term, but if they are to meaningfully grow in the long term, their focus will need to shift to innovation and adapting of the evolving international trends - something that will not only give them sustainable growth, but also higher earnings.
The writer is an entrepreneur and economic analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org