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Delhi – A Growth Hub for India’s Apparel Exports

India’s traditional skills in textiles, intricate craftsmanship, and creativity in producing a range of design-intensive products have enticed buyers from all over the world. India retains a strong and sustainable position among the top five exporters of textiles and clothing in the world.

India’s textile exports are currently weighted in favour of raw materials and intermediate products leading to ‘value-leakage’, which is a major concern from the long-term competitiveness perspective.

Within India, Delhi holds a position of prominence and can play a significant role in capturing additional value within the country. As a sourcing destination and as a gateway to the rest of India’s textile and apparel sector, Delhi provides unique value in product development and design, and a tremendously flexible supply base.

This capability is especially critical in an unpredictable market where retailers and brands are looking to source ever-smaller quantities of product, increasingly closer to the season.

According to the Director (Merchandising) of one of the largest US retailers sourcing from India, “Delhi scores high on responsiveness, and is more enterprising. It has the capability to handle extraordinary fabrics and is strong in interpretations of artwork.”

The apparel cluster in Delhi-National Capital Region (Delhi NCR) includes locations across four states, and accounts for about twenty five percent share in the country’s current apparel exports. If Delhi’s apparel cluster were to be treated as a country, at US$ 2.6 billion (Rs. 12,000 crores) of apparel exports, it would fall within the Top-20 list, ahead of countries such as El Salvador, South Korea, Philippines, Peru and Egypt. Moreover, being a labour intensive industry, apparel cluster offers immense employment opportunities in NCR, already with current direct employment of over 1 million as per Third Eyesight’s estimate.

A study carried out by Third Eyesight has identified an additional growth opportunity of over US$ 5.5 billion (Rs. 25,000 crores) both in its current markets and products, as well as new product opportunities.

For many buyers, sourcing from Delhi NCR cluster is still restricted to beaded, sequined, and tie-dyed blouses, dresses and skirts. While Delhi remains strong in these products, it now also sells funky denim and jersey wear to young fashion brands, men’s tailored suits to American brands, and women’s undergarments to Europe.

Delhi now offers a base both to international buyers looking at buying finished products, and to Asian, European and American manufacturers looking at setting up alternative manufacturing locations that can tap international as well as the Indian market.

Going forward, the key stakeholders of the Delhi NCR apparel export cluster – individual companies, industry associations and the government need to urgently undertake adequate action steps as the competition is gearing up and the perceived strength of Delhi NCR cluster at the moment may not remain a USP of this cluster in the future.

The Delhi NCR apparel export cluster strategy report along with action steps and key implementation areas was presented at an industry seminar ‘Discovering Growth’ in New Delhi. The seminar was hosted by GTZ in partnership with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC). The seminar was attended by the key stakeholders of the Delhi NCR apparel cluster including leading apparel exporters, buying agencies and retailers.

Eternal Hope to Reality

The Textile and apparel industry is of particular importance to India. It not only provides employment to a broad base of semi-skilled and unskilled labour but also helps to extend the economic bounty to urban and semi urban areas. Though India has a history of thousands of years in global trading of textile, it contributes only 3% to the global exports of textile and clothing.

While the urge to grow exists, there is a huge difference between the current exports of about Rs. 864 billion (US$ 20 billion) and the target of Rs. 2,500 billion (US$ 55 billion) by 2012. To achieve this vision, exports must grow at around 25-35 per cent a year for the next 4 years, depending on how weak or stable the current year is. This growth rate seems difficult considering the fact India has actually grown its exports of textiles and apparel at an annualized growth of a little over 14 per cent from 2003-04 to 2007-08.

Even if the industry looks at increasing the volume of exports to achieve the vision, the ports do not have the handling capacity considering that they currently operate at 91 to 92 % of available capacity.

Hence, incremental thinking will not help to achieve the vision.

Our key concern is the value “lost” by the industry. Being the low cost supplier does not necessarily translate into greater market share. The Indian Industry must look at enhancing the value delivered rather than competing on the cost platform. Indeed, India compares poorly to other countries on the value captured per employee.  (For instance, if the export value captured per employee in India was as much as Turkey, India’s exports would be close to China’s exports of US$ 161 billion.)

One major concern that needs to be addressed is that India’s exports are still weighted in favour of raw materials and intermediate products, rather than finished products. Apparel exports account for only 41% of India’s textile exports in 2007-08. India’s product mix also needs to be aligned to global market needs, rather than only focussing on “traditional strengths” – this includes enhancing the share of non-cotton products in the basket.

Another area that is neglected is the inherent competitive capability of developing new products. The industry needs to develop and nurture these skill sets to create a sustained competitive advantage in the global scenario. India already provides buyers with value in terms of product development and design, which needs focus and further strengthening.

Further, India’s domestic industry, and its skill at understanding market needs, creating and merchandising product, can also play a valuable role in the industry’s growth.

The competitive advantage offered by being able to influence the development of a product is immense. And given that sourcing lead times are shorter in unpredictable times, a supply base that has been involved with the buyer right from the development stage of the product is most likely to get the final order. Third Eyesight proposes a four dimensional model: Define, Design, Develop and Deliver so as to achieve the industry-wide development, of projecting India as a valuable supplier, and sustaining its value needs.

By creating an ecosystem focused on design and product development, India can create and capture the billions of dollars worth of value that is being lost to other countries.

This is an extract from Third Eyesight’s report presented at the FICCI 3rd Annual Textile And Garment conference in Mumbai. The report was released by the Minister of Textiles, Government of India. To download the full report prepared by Third Eyesight, please click here.

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