With chilly winter winds ushering themselves in, it is time for the woollens to make a warm appearance! Bindu Gopal Rao surveys the woollen wear market of the nation to find out what keeps it ticking and thriving.
If there is one material that you cannot do without in the winters, it is wool. India’s woollen wear industry is coming into focus in a big way today; thus benefiting everybody—the producers, retailers and customers.
The woollen industry in the country is R 10,000 crores in size and is broadly divided and scattered between the organised and decentralised sectors. Though the woollen wear market in India is smaller as compared to the cotton or man-made fibre textiles sectors, it plays an important role in linking the rural economy of the country to the manufacturing industry. “The woollen wear market has been growing at a healthy CAGR of 13 percent since 2007. However, with increased wool prices owing to the growth in global demand and a weakening rupee, wool import in India has become more expensive, leading to unforeseen disturbances in the growth,” explains Swapan Dutta, President Retail, Monte Carlo Fashions Ltd. But the market is definitely looking up as per a recent report of ‘National Fibre Policy’ (Ministry of Textiles) that states that in the next decade, consumption (production + imports) of raw wool is estimated to double from 114.2 million kg in 2008-09 to 260.8 million kg by 2019-20. “We have seen winter wear in India grow by leaps and bounds in the recent past, as earlier people were not so fashion conscious and winter dressing was more of a necessity. Today, it has become a must to dress fashionably even during the winter months. This awareness is boosting the sale of woollen wear in India,” opines Sreyasee Halder, Design Head – W. According to Heena Malhotra, Designer, Chhabra 555, “The woollen market has deep roots in India; the initial designs and patterns were inspired by folk art and culture but it has seen a humongous change with the course of time.”
The wool industry in the country is small in size and widely scattered. Ludhiana is the hub for most of the woollen wear that is produced in the country, with the best of brands sourcing and developing their products from here. Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, too, are some of the best places to source woollen wear in India. The woollen wear industry is growing strong in the States of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat as well, and the sale of woollen apparel is becoming territory-specific too. “For instance, if you go towards the south, there is a demand for lighter woollen wear or garments made out of cotton,” says Rajiv Mehra, Director, Styleever.com.
THE OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME
The industry suffers from inadequate and outdated processing facilities. The capacity of producing quality products, especially fully-fashioned, computerised knitwear is available only at limited centres. Even though factories are importing computerised knitting machines from Japan and other countries, the manufacturing capacity is still far less compared to China and Bangladesh. Quality upgradation and fabric development in women’s western woollen wear is an area with enormous potential for the mills to explore as the production of wool in the country is not sufficient to meet the demand of the apparel sector. “With raw wool prices having appreciated 25 percent in the international market, the rupee devaluation has added to the woes, pushing up the landed price of raw wool in India. Hence, there has been a shift in imports—from fine quality wool to low quality wool in recent years. The other challenges include lack of proper government policies and initiative in developing the wool sector,” says Mehra. “However, India does have the advantage of being a labour driven country, and manufacturing hand flat knitted winter wear is still very popular, and is often useful to create cost effective products,” says Halder.
THE ROAD AHEAD
With the cost of raw wool having risen considerably, there is a lot of focus on creating new yarn blends like acrylic polyamide, viscose polyamide and wool modal. “Currently the R&D activities undertaken are not at par; they need to be upgraded in order to render technical and troubleshooting services with reference to selection of raw material, controlling various adjusting equipments, reducing the cost of production and improving the quality of product,” says Mannoj Mehrra, CMD, Study By Janak Pvt Ltd. There have also been various research and development measures implemented to modernise the pre-loom and post-loom facilities for ensuring quality finished products. “Our product development on wool apparel is in four major categories— Sport, Baby, Urban and Apparel Care. In general, the industry is looking for green manufacturers to meet the consumers’ demands. Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) is keen to promote the natural fibre—Merino wool in the Indian market in the coming years,” says a spokesperson from The Woolmark Company (TWC). AWI/TWC is promoting wool as a transitional fibre, warm in winters and cool in summers. This year Monte Carlo has introduced a new and very high/luxury range/products made from 16 GSM cash wool, imported from Italy. “As a leading domestic manufacturer and enjoying a large customer base, our R&D activities are focused towards enhancing the feel of the garment, improving dimensional stability and reducing piling,” opines Dutta.
THE SHIFT FROM TRADITIONAL WAYS AND METHODS HAS LED TO THE EMERGENCE OF NEW TRENDS LIKE INTRODUCTION OF NEWER YARNS AND INNOVATIVE VALUE ADDITIONS.
Adds Malhotra, “Every year R&D activities are initiated by the government for the betterment of the wool industry. Cost reduction, quality and productivity are some of the agendas that have been given preference during the talks.” With clever discretion and stronger intiatives, the woollen wear market of the country can definitely be turned around so as to emerge as one of the main components that make up the economic backbone of the country.