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The Diverse Textile Flavours of Asia

For many decades now, the textile industry has been critical to the economies of the major South Asian countries – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – directly or indirectly employing some 75 million people.

While the four countries all have highly vertical operations and are generally in active competition with each other, it is noticeable that each nation has developed its own unique areas of specialism.

Rising in RMGs

In terms of growth, the textile and apparel sector of Bangladesh has risen from just a handful of manufacturers to over 6,000 factories in just three decades and is now the world’s second largest exporter of readymade garments (RMGs) behind only China.

Many of the world’s leading fashion brands have chosen to establish operations in Bangladesh, including Gap, H&M, Levi’s, Puma and Zara, drawn to the country’s efficiencies and highly integrated network of rapidly responding suppliers. The government has further initiated plans to achieve exports of RMGs worth US$50 billion by 2025 and approaching US$100 billion by 2030.

To realise this, the reinforcement of a textile manufacturing backbone will become increasingly crucial, and investment in the advanced technologies to be showcased at ITMA ASIA + CITME, Singapore next year will be vital to ensuring the Bangladesh industry continues to grow sustainably.

Nonwovens boom

India’s long-established textile and apparel industry is already estimated to have an annual value of around US$165 billion and to be on course to reach US$350 billion by 2030, according to a FICCI-Wazir Advisors report, driven by a strong focus in areas such as technical textiles, home furnishings and specialised fabrics.

The growth of India’s nonwovens industry, for example, has been nothing short of astonishing. The production of nonwovens and the consumption of products made from them – especially absorbent hygiene products (AHPs) and disposable wipes – has always grown alongside populations and the rising prosperity of a country; right now, it looks like it is India’s turn.

Nonwovens production in India has already grown by over 50% in the past five years, according to BCH, the New Delhi-based consultancy, from 410,000 tons in 2017 to 874,000 tons in 2022. Most notably this new capacity is going to the AHPs market, for which nonwovens production has rocketed from 16,600 tons to 84,395 tons over the same period.

Distinguished by denim

Pakistan meanwhile has a notable number of highly integrated specialists in the production of denim fabrics, mainly located in the regions around its major cities of Karachi and Lahore. These companies are huge employers, with an operation such as Soorty, for example, employing some 22,000 people across its textile and garment operations.

All of Pakistan’s major denim manufacturers work closely with the leading European, US and Japanese designers and fibre manufacturers and are equipped with the latest technology and the flexibility to ensure that once a new trend emerges, they can jump on it extremely rapidly.

The branding and marketing of Pakistan’s denim leaders is extremely sophisticated and sustainable credentials are almost uniform, taking in the use of Better Cotton Initiative cotton and recycled PET, extreme efficiency in water, chemicals and energy usage, garment finishing with laser and ozone and much more.

Responsible apparel

Sustainable manufacturing has been embraced by Sri Lanka’s textile and apparel industry in order to stay ahead of the competition, with initiatives ranging from LEED building certifications and net-zero carbon emitting factories to the recycling of ocean plastic waste into clothing.

A flagship project currently underway is the Eravur Fabric Park. The 300-acre fabric park has a focus on sustainable textile manufacturing and is on course to attract approximately US$300 million in new investment. Purpose-built with the most advanced technology to promote efficiency in energy and water consumption, it has additional infrastructure for recycling and recovering water used in production.

“Sri Lanka has always remained ahead of the curve in identifying the needs of the industry and where it is headed,” says Jeevith Senaratne, treasurer of the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association (SLAEA). “In recent years there has been increased demand for greater responsibility from apparel manufacturers and our industry is continually innovating to be ahead of the game as a sustainable manufacturing destination.”

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