Budget 2023 for textiles: India’s textile is central to our identity. The earliest surviving Indian cotton threads date to around 4000 BC. Many Indian regions invented astonishing and unique materials, weaves and dyes. The depth and range is unmatched. Assam’s Muga, Benarasi silk, Kashmiri Pashmina, Bengal’s Muslins, Lucknowi Chikankari, Rajasthani Block Prints, Gujarati Patola: the list is inexhaustible and spectacular.

Roman and British trading networks burgeoned arbitraging Indian textiles. Replete with riches and heritage, one would expect India to house leading global apparel and home textile brands. However, among the world’s largest apparel and home textile brands, a list that encompasses Uniqlo, Zara, H&M, Gap, Ikea and Williams Sonoma, not one is Indian. What explains this paradox?

Government of India’s Production Linked Incentive Scheme is a landmark legislation to springboard manufacturing in key sectors and make it globally competitive. Textile is deservedly part of the PLI scheme. It may enable textiles woven and manufactured in India to be competitively sold to global brands. However, PLI alone will not facilitate Indian textiles to mutate from tailor to retailer.

China, despite emerging as the preeminent manufacturing superpower of the twenty first century foundered in creating a consequential ecosystem to enable businesses to understand and serve customers. Thus, companies like Apple, Target and Walmart, while valuing China as a key vendor, were able to resource their merchandise from alternative geographies.

Geopolitical and post-Covid concerns have offered us a case study. India, along with other emerging markets, ought to be beneficiaries of the global retailers’ “China Plus One” sourcing strategy. Becoming a factory to the world is a laudable aspiration that PLI seeks to thrust India into, however in textiles we ought to set a higher bar. We should certainly make, but also design, market and consume.

Textile – apparel and home textiles – can provide an unprecedented opportunity for Indian preeminence in fashion, manufacturing, branding and marketing, and be globally recognised as a major producing country in an important sector of the economy, akin to the Swiss in watches, the French in luxury goods or Germany in automobiles. Textile industry can employ our farmers to grow cotton, silk and wool, our weavers and factory workers to embroider, print and manufacture, our designers and marketing professionals to exploit their talents, and for our entrepreneurs to found online and offline retailers to serve global, including Indian, customers.

What will it take to achieve this? Can we learn from home grown illustrations? An intriguing fact that deserves further research is that several incumbent apparel and home textiles brands started as exporters – they were founded by expats, or Indians who worked with international brands, who discerned the depth and breadth of India’s textile craft heritage. Understanding and serving the global market with world class products can be the first step of building Indian brands.

Ensuring quality control, standardised production systems, on trend designs and cutting edge marketing are learnings that need to be employed in Indian textile industry. The forthcoming budget may consider a bold and comprehensive textile policy providing direction and resources to create a world class textile ecosystem in India. An opportunity that is millennia in the making should be grasped forthwith.

The Times Of India | 16-Jan-2023

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