Indian handloom industry and garment manufacturers lags behind in the global market because of many reasons that are discussed here

India has a prosperous history of handlooms and craft heritage since time immemorial. However, the subtle intricacies of Indian handcrafts are being exploited by the designers in haute couture segment at the world’s stage. On the other hand, the Indian garment manufacturers are unable to incorporate the same into ready-to-wear (prêt-à-porter segment) collection for exports. Is there any technical difficulty in developing merchandise (maintaining export quality) using Indian handloom fabric? Or is there non-acceptance from global fashion brands and retailers?

The apparel industry professionals put out the possible reasons behind such a setback:

Hidayath Sultan, Apparel Industry Professional, Chennai (India)

First of all, in India, there is no direct support for handloom weavers from the Government. In 1990s, we had quota system and produced handloom clothes for many overseas markets, but that’s not the case now. Powerloom production got promoted in late ’90s and now we are more into mill made fabrics for uniforms. Why do people in India think about international market when we have big market for uniforms locally? We can use fabric from handloom weavers if we plan well in advance rather than going for other mechanised fabrics.

Another issue is that previously under some State Governments in India, many public schools were in progress where this kind of education was imparted but we failed to make the cluster out of them. We have damaged the Handicraft and Handloom Export Corporation (HHEC).

In south India, we have lost many handloom weavers clusters, including those in my village. I am proud to say that I was born in a handloom family and am now actively continuing in textile profession. It is not working out though because of corrupted officials and higher level authorities in the board.

Ikat fabrics were sold in home decor division during 1990 to 2000. But after quota regime, industry was not that familiar for many big retailers. We had to associate with big retailers who were working for bed linen to provide added advantage to weavers, craftsmen and the customers.

Similarly, if linen or high-end fabrics can be developed in handloom with added craftsmanship, it will do wonders for customers. But, my strong suggestion is that, before everything else we have to make clusters across India to strengthen the craftsmen and weavers.

It’s a fact that we have resources and we have not been able to adopt the right technology for them, which is actually a necessity in today’s time. This is where the problem lies. We have crafts which have huge prospects for mass production. You see we keep teaching our children ‘an apple a day keeps doctor away’ and for us, this craft is our apple which should be promoted.

Preeti Mehra, Director, RGB Creations Pvt. Ltd., Delhi (India)

Yes, the Indian export industry has not yet been able to catch up with strength that lies in our handloom fabric. One of the examples is Khadi. Since independence, we had not seen any major transformation in Khadi industry until 2014. But since 2014, there has been a major boost in Khadi production and Khadi products, which is openly embraced by both domestic brands and international brands.

As far as my knowledge goes, Khadi and Village Industries Commission of India (KVIC) participated in ‘India Sourcing Fair’ in 2018 in St. Petersburg (Russia), where KVIC products won accolades. KVIC had also approached the United Nations (UN) to promote Khadi in their various rehabilitation programmes as it is one of the most environment-friendly products, and provides sustenance to millions of people. And, if you see the further developments, you will find that Khadi outlets are being planned to be opened in various global markets and KVIC is receiving queries from Dubai, Chicago, Mauritius and South Africa, under the franchisee model. Even Raymond has already started selling Khadi in its stores abroad.

However, I do agree that the export industry is still lacking orders for this fabric; despite this, we are trying to innovate product segments using handloom fabric. This is because of certain challenges that come with handloom fabrics. In the present form, some handloom fabrics are not acceptable for use as formalwear as they get crushed easily and get wrinkles quickly once worn. Readymade Garments (RMG) made out of these fabrics shrink easily, therefore one needs to iron them after every wash, and export industry may find it difficult to explain to buyers how to tackle these challenges. When we talk about Kalamkari, Bandhani, Kunbi silk and Kosa silk, all these handloom fabrics possess these challenges.

Another thing is that handloom fabric such as Khadi are made of coarse fibre, hence they are not skin friendly. Internationally, people require comfort, easy care, smell repellent and wrinkle-free clothing, whereas Khadi is anything but with these properties.

Arjun Sehgal, Co-Director & Design Head, Mariko Plus Pvt. Ltd., Noida (India)

It’s true that India is lacking in its own strength. We, on the other hand, use a lot of block printing and kalamkari on our garments and this is our USP. I have created special blocks of my own design and those blocks are printed in kalamkari which is an Indian art and believe me, markets like Brazil and Argentina need such kind of garments where you have used Indian niche fabrics with our own created art. Kalamkari has enhanced my designs on fabrics. Nowadays, it’s hard to find these kinds of traditional kalamkari patterns so I feel we are doing something really different than others because our product is more of niche than mass.

And, buyers are ready to pay for these niche products. We start with at least US $ 8/9 and it goes up to US $ 20 per piece. We have everything in our product right from Indian embroidery (Aari), block print and other value-additions such as beads work.

However, till date we just focused on niche market as it’s difficult to find mass orders for such products as you also mentioned in the question. We are planning to take this work on bulk level as we keep on innovating products with different fabrics, different textures and different types of embroideries.

Till now, we use delicate fabrics such as rayon, chiffon, georgette, crepe but since I am quite inclined towards traditional side of manufacturing, I am keen to use more of traditional Indian fabrics such as silk and I am sure there is a great demand for these value-added garments in the overseas market; it’s just that we need to tap the demand.