Textiles India 2017 : The whole nine yards
In a fashion show titled Symphony Of Weaves, 31 Indian fashion designers put up a spectacular show on Indian textiles from 30 June-2 July in Gandhinagar. A circular ramp with a massive spindle as its centrepiece and a backdrop made of punched cards used in jacquard looms drove home the message: We have inherited a staggering diversity of textile traditions.
This diversity was showcased in painstakingly revived Kunbi cotton handloom by Wendell Rodricks and luxurious Banarasi silks by Sanjay Garg. Rahul Misra’s merino wool weaves were light and delicate, while a gamut of ornate embroideries by Anita Dongre, Manish Malhotra, Ritu Kumar, Rohit Bal and Sabyasachi Mukherjee represented the rich vibrancy of Indian textiles. Chaman Siju, a master craftsman from Kutch, showed his Kala cotton collection and Daniel Syiem presented Ryndia, a kind of woven silk from Meghalaya.
The Textiles India 2017 trade fair, the first event of its kind, brought the entire value chain in the industry—weavers, manufacturers, designers, retailers, exporters and policymakers—together under one roof. The objective was articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his inaugural speech: “Farm to fibre, fibre to factory, factory to fashion, and fashion to foreign exports.”
The slogan is aimed at connecting the dots and bridging the gap among the different parts of the industry by promoting collaboration and trade.
The venue of the event, Mahatma Mandir, is one of India’s largest convention centres, built over 34 acres. According to data released by the Union textile ministry, the event saw about 1,600 buyers from more than 100 countries. Around 1,300 exhibitors and 2,000 delegates had registered for the event and total participation, including domestic buyers, artisans and visitors, crossed 6,000.
Over what felt like a three-day crash course in the working of the Indian textile industry, one lesson was clear: The gaps are primarily those of (mis)management.
In the panel discussion on cotton, for instance, it turned out that while India is the second largest cotton yarn producer after China, there is such a thing as too much diversity. M.V. Venugopalan, principal scientist at the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, pointed out that there are 18 types of soil that produce cotton and more than 1,000 BT cotton hybrids approved for cultivation. The quality and staple lengths of these varieties differ. “All these get mixed, then ginned and baled,” he said in an email interview.
“(For an international buyer), there’s no way to rely on the cotton coming out of India because the quality standard varies,” said Andrew Macdonald, partner at AMCON, a global consultancy that also runs a textiles and cotton division. At the end of the day, Indian cotton trails because it fails the test of a product of standard quality.
Similar gaps also came to light in another discussion, on “sustainability in handloom”. As Manoj Jain, director, office of the development commissioner (handlooms), ministry of textiles, spoke about the several government policies to promote handloom, an audience member asked about the policies for cotton farmers, who are at the bottom of the value chain. “That’s ministry of agriculture jurisdiction,” responded Jain. A valid answer, but it brought to light the need for coordination and collaboration between different ministries.
Vibha Bhoot, owner of Manav Creations, a furniture maker and exporter from Jodhpur, said: “Business is slow, to say the least. We generally take part in the trade fair that happens in Noida, organized by EPCH (Export Promotion Council For Handicrafts). They invited us to come here and show, but I think there is a big lacuna between buyer and seller. It’s Day 2 and hardly any buyers have come along.”
Another seller, Satish Katta of Siyaram Exports, Jaipur, showed faith in the debut event but pointed out that “the timing seems off. Buying stocks for the next year happens in October of the previous year. At this time, mid-year, sellers and exporters are away, selling what they’ve already procured,” he said.
A few halls away, Union textiles minister Smriti Irani was saying that as of Day 2, 65 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) had been signed. “Three government-to-government MoUs have been signed: between India and Australia; between India and China, with a focus on silk research; and between Nift and Buft (National Institute of Fashion Technology and Bangladesh University of Fashion Technology, respectively). Apart from these, 62 individual business-to-business MoUs have been signed. This is our first attempt and we’re looking for global partnerships to boost local business. Like the PM said, ‘Textile is one sector that bridges the gap between farmer and industry,’” said Irani.
And it is definitely the sector that bridges the gap between the fashion industry and the crafts community. The collaboration between the two is not new in itself. Fashion houses like Sabyasachi and péro have adopted entire craft clusters—towns and villages with a concentration of a certain kind of craft skill. The fashion shows during the event were testimony that the Indian fashion industry is tied inextricably to the textile industry.
Jaspreet Chandok, vice-president and head of fashion, IMG Reliance, which holds the Lakmé Fashion Week and organized the fashion shows at Textiles India 2017, encouraged the opening up of this otherwise one-on-one collaboration to other potential partners. “At the fashion weeks, you see the same set of people with a 10% churn. Here, it’s 10% of those regulars, with 90% of those who have never visited before. It’s a platform where people from the government and bureaucracy, international buyers and Indian retailers, can interface with the designers. It opens up conversations which you can then leverage for the business of fashion,” Chandok said.