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‘India can counter Bangladesh, Vietnam in garment exports’

Sumit Tawakley, an alumnus of Apeejay Panchsheel Park and Senior General Manager at Italian fashion brand, Benetton Group, says the continued success of the textile and apparel (T&A) industry, the country’s biggest employer after farming, is vital to tame unemployment.

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Sumit has over 23 years of experience in garment trade and has worked in India, Kenya, Bangladesh and Egypt. He has operational experience in sourcing, manufacturing and consulting in the apparel industry. Sumit completed his Bachelor of Business Studies from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, University of Delhi and Post Graduate (Diploma) in Garment Manufacturing Technology from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Kolkata. In a candid interview, Sumit states how the school motto – “Soaring high is my nature” inspired him, the importance of the textile industry, how India can compete with Bangladesh and Vietnam in the garment sector, and more. Edited excerpts:

How was your school journey?

It was amazing. I studied in the school from Nursery to class 12. Our school bears the motto – “Soaring high is my nature”, exemplifying the fact that the sky’s the limit in the pursuit of excellence. It left a deep impression in my mind. The school taught me to give your best in all aspects of your life. We were also taught to treat everyone with respect, big or small, rich or poor. I made some great friends in the school and I am still in touch with them. 

Tell us why India’s textile industry is critical to the overall health of the economy?

According to the Ministry of Textiles, this industry provides direct and indirect employment to close to 105 million people, which makes it the second largest employment generator in the country, next only to agriculture. More significantly, women constitute 70% of the workforce in garment manufacturing and about 73% in handloom. The textile and apparel industry contributed 2% in the overall GDP of India in 2019 and 12% to export earnings. Sustained success for the textile and apparel (T&A) industry is crucial to tame unemployment.

Of late, India is losing out to neighbouring Bangladesh in textile exports. Why?

India’s exports were on a par with Bangladesh around two decades ago but have lagged in recent years – especially on garments, partly due to higher labour costs, power and other factors. For instance, Bangladesh is classified as a Least Developed Country. Thus, it gets preferential access in terms of duties to both the EU and the U.S. Vietnam which recently surpassed Bangladesh as 2nd biggest garment exporter also has a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU. According to the World Trade Organisation Vietnam sold $29 billion worth of apparel to the world in 2020 compared to $28 billion worth of goods sold by Bangladesh. China is at the top with the value of its apparel exports pegged at $142 billion. Also, the garment and textile business is the number one industry in Bangladesh, accounting for 80% of the country’s exports. So the government pays special emphasis on this sector.  In India, it’s only recently that we have started paying adequate attention to this sector.

How to position India strongly on the global textiles map?

Post pandemic, we are gradually getting back on track. The government has set an “aspirational” target of $100 billion for textiles and garment exports over the next five years. Easy availability of raw materials, existence of total value chain, young demography of India, entrepreneurial mindset of industry leaders, continuous support of Government and good presence of ancillary units will help this sector grow at a good pace in the coming years. For instance, the government has approved Setting up of 7 Pradhan Mantri Mega Integrated Textile Region and Apparel Parks in a period of 5 years.  The government has also approved the Production Linked Incentive scheme for textiles. I believe through sustained efforts India can counter Bangladesh, Vietnam in garment exports.Also, we shouldn’t forget that we have a huge domestic untapped market which offers tremendous opportunities for growth.

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]

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