The small scale industry forms the backbone of the Indian economy. The textile manufacturing sector, which is an integral part of the Indian manufacturing industry, is a good example of an industry that relies heavily on its small scale units. While the government has time and again promised wholehearted support to the sector, challenges remain in the market that impede its holistic growth.
In fact, the cottage industry itself has undergone a massive transformation over the decades thanks to the advent of new technology that has increased productivity of these units and also made them more efficient. In today’s hyper connected world, the cottage industry has a higher potential than a full fledged textile production unit if technology is leveraged effectively and scales are considered.
Before we look at challenges, let us look at some unique features of the textile cottage industry in India and identify areas that have the maximum potential.
The charkha is an iconic symbol of the Indian cottage industry. It had an indisputable role during our freedom struggle and even today the symbol of Mahatma Gandhi sitting evokes a self sufficient and independent industry.
Ideal of spinning cotton and other fine short staple fibres, the charkha was used extensively during the early part of the 20th with more advanced machinery. This manually operated spinning wheel however set a benchmark in the industry in terms of sustainable home based production that forms the foundation of the massive small scale sector in India.
Today the cottage industry has come a long way in terms of specialisation. The internet has facilitated several small scale units to connect on a global or national B2B network. This positive impact has in fact allowed small players to gain specific specialisations and realise the true worth of their uniqueness.
Ecommerce has also been a major driving force in the industry in the last 4-5 years. Online retailers today are bringing to the limelight not just local producers but also providing a platform for the small scale manufacturing units to sell directly to their customers.
With small units required to produce more and produce quickly, several new innovations are coming to the forefront through them. In fact, the digital age is witnessing a serious surge of home-based businesses in the textile industry with simplified and effective business models.
In spite of the growing nature of the small scale textile manufacturing industry challenges plague the sector. Firstly, it is important to understand the basic challenges that most small scale industries have- their unorganised nature. While the government has been keen to bring in more players under the tax net and consequently get more players into the organised sector, traditional businesses continue to follow traditional methodologies and thereby obstructing the flow of domestic and foreign investment in the sector. century in India to produce cloth. Gradually however the manual mechanism was replaced.
According to Sudhakar Sahoo, founder of Odisha Saree Store, an online retail store that provides a platform for micro handloom and other small textile manufacturing units across Odisha to reach out to customers across the globe, “There aren’t enough schemes in place for the weavers. In fact, my travels across the state of Odisha have revealed that there exists fake organisations that register weavers and pocket the government’s money released through the schemes. The weavers in fact benefit the least and work the hardest.”
Traditional handloom also faces some modern day challenges in terms of design. A lot of village based producers of textile and clothing may be unaware of design, pattern and fabric trends in the existing market. Mr Sahoo says, “There is a need for a design revival in the handloom market. The units need to align their designs with the choices and fashion of the modern generation.”
Technology and automation challenges
Over the years, the small scale textile manufacturing industry in India has struggled to bring in effective technology due to various factors the biggest of which is capital. Things are however changing with certain small units with niche specialisations leveraging state of the art technologies to produce on a larger scale with a smaller infrastructure.
According to Sumit Mall, director at Times Fiberfill, a leading manufacturer and exporter of technical textile and home furnishings in Eastern India, the distribution of automated units in the country is uneven. “Micro and small units have to rapidly automate their processes in order to compete with the large global entities entering the market today. Unfortunately the progress is highly localised in the western and southern parts of the country where the support services for maintenance, transportation and manpower are advanced. Eastern India also has its advantages in the form of availability of water. This makes it an ideal place for the manufacture of fabrics.”
Traditional businesses often struggle to bring in technology due to capital shortage. However a large number of business owners in the sector, being educationally backward often fail to understand the importance of new technologies and new methodologies in modern business and continue to perform below their actual potential. The first step to make them accept this technology is for the government to break these invisible barriers of traditional businesses.
Into the future
With new innovations and a lot of capital going into R&D, the textile industry will witness new fabrics, new designs and new concepts and the more they permeate the small scale industry the faster will be their growth rate. The government will need to build more B2B and B2C platforms so that small and micro players get the right exposure and the right price for their unique products.
While ecommerce has propelled the small scale textile industry to an extent, the need of the hour is for the government to collaborate with mid and small sized players in order to leverage the talent, the artistry and skills of the local weavers across the country. The tremendous diversity of the industry and its regional variation in terms of designs, style, patterns and colours provides an incredible opportunity for distributors, retailers and marketers to make India the hub of textile innovation and production.
Published in the Apparel Magazine (CMAI)