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Dear Friends,

Had an in­ter­est­ing op­por­tu­nity to Mod­er­ate a Panel Dis­cus­sion on AP­PAREL 4.0 at In­tex South Asia in Colombo. Lead­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Tex­tile and Ap­parel In­dus­try of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pak­istan and In­dia par­tic­i­pated. So what is In­dus­try 4.0? Es­sen­tially, it sym­bol­ises the Fu­ture of our In­dus­try – how is the In­dus­try go­ing to look like 5 or 10 years from now, and what are the ma­jor changes we are go­ing to see in the com­ing years. The Panel Mem­bers re­counted their per­cep­tion of the changes they see com­ing forth in their re­spec­tive Coun­tries, and what steps the In­dus­try is tak­ing to en­sure it re­mains rel­e­vant in the new sce­nario. It was gen­er­ally agreed that the ma­jor changes one is likely to see in the com­ing years are – Au­to­ma­tion, in­creas­ing use of Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence, much more open and Trans­par­ent In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems, in­creased fo­cus on Sus­tain­abil­ity and Cir­cu­lar Fash­ion, and Speed of Sup­ply be­com­ing as im­por­tant, if not more, as the cost of the Prod­uct. A cur­sory glance at this list should warn all South Asian Ex­porters of the dan­gers that lie ahead. Coun­tries like In­dia, Bangladesh, Pak­istan, and to some ex­tent Sri Lanka got a foothold into the Western Mar­kets largely based on their price com­pet­i­tive­ness – and this price com­pet­i­tive­ness was largely a re­sult of the lower labour costs. If au­to­ma­tion is go­ing to re­duce the role of labour, and Speed to Mar­ket to re­duce the im­por­tance of cost, a ma­jor ad­van­tage of the South Asian Coun­tries as a source of sup­ply is go­ing to be down­played. Of course, no one be­lieves that the Ap­parel In­dus­try is no longer go­ing to be de­pen­dent on labour, or that cost will not be a rel­e­vant fac­tor. There is a clear sig­nal that these may not be the only fac­tors go­ing ahead. A vis­i­ble trend has al­ready emerged, with Buy­ers opt­ing for re-shoring for at least some por­tion of their Prod­uct range. Apart from just the Cost fac­tor, Au­to­ma­tion, Ro­bot­ics and use of Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence, all re­quire a cer­tain change of mind­set. Are our Ex­porters ready for this change? Will our Ex­porters ap­pre­ci­ate the nu­ances of Cir­cu­lar Fash­ion and Sus­tain­able Pro­duc­tion? Will they be ready to in­vest in these con­cepts? Will they de­velop the at­ti­tude of Trans­parency and In­for­ma­tion shar­ing – along with the in­tro­duc­tion of the nec­es­sary tech­nolo­gies? The an­swer to these ques­tions will largely de­ter­mine how ready we will be for 4.0. On the Do­mes­tic front, Di­wali has been a mixed bag for the In­dus­try. As per my feed­back, the Larger Play­ers have done rea­son­ably well, with many re­port­ing dou­bledigit like-for-like growth. But the Smaller Play­ers have not seen such re­sults. Of course, or­gan­ised Re­tail with its Mid Sea­son Sales and Fes­tive Dis­counts had an edge over Con­sumer spend­ing and so did the E-Com­merce Play­ers, but what im­pact these schemes had on the bot­tom line only they can say. On the pos­i­tive side, we seem to be head­ing for a strong Win­ter this year, and I see a smile on the Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Re­tail­ers of win­ter wear af­ter some years! I am hop­ing that a much stronger De­cem­ber and Jan­uary sales, with or with­out the EOSS, will im­prove the bot­tom lines of many play­ers this fis­cal. Fingers crossed!


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