FROM THE PRESIDENT’S DESK
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!