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Cover Story | October 2019

Synthetic textiles: Imports hurt, exports hold new hopes

Currently man-made fibre (MMF) dominates global textile fibre consumption with 72:28 ratio —MMF 72 per cent and natural fibre 28 per cent. The share of MMF had been steadily increasing due to cutting-edge technology, its durability and sustainability concerns. But in India, the share is in favour of cotton at 60:40 versus MMF.

MMF exports have grown to contribute 16 per cent to the total textile and clothing exports from India worth $40 billion in 2018-19. The MMF industry is contributing two per cent to India’s GDP and providing jobs to over 18 million people directly and more than 20 million indirectly and technical textiles are expected to see a significant growth in coming time, according to industry experts.

With a view to protect the ecology and environment, the demand for MMF textiles all over the world is increasing as a substitute for cotton amidst changes in global fashion trends. The Synthetic & Rayon Textiles Export Promotion Council (SRTEPC) Chairman Ronak Rughani says that with an increasing focus on protecting environment, the demand for MMF textiles as a substitute for cotton is growing globally.

“Globally increasing price volatility, durability and sustainability concerns have made leading fashion brands to gradually shift the fibre mix in favour of synthetic fibres, especially polyester and viscose,” Rughani said.

“We contribute two per cent to India’s GDP and employ more than 18 million people directly and more than 20 million people indirectly. We export entire MMF textile value chain including fibre, yarn, fabrics and made-ups to nearly 140 countries. More than 60 per cent of our exports are of value-added items such as made ups and fabrics,” says Rughani. India produces over 1,441 million kg of MMF and over 3,000 million kg of man-made filaments annually. India is the second largest producer of polyester and viscose in the world.

“MMF exports have grown to contribute 16 per cent of the textile and clothing exports from India (in value terms) in 2018-19. We contribute two per cent to India’s GDP and employ more than 18 million people directly and more than 20 million people indirectly. We export entire MMF textile value chain including fibre, yarn, fabrics and made ups to nearly 140 countries. More than 60per cent of our exports are of value-added items such as made ups and fabrics,” says Chairman of SRTEPC.

According to Rughani, “globally increasing price volatility, durability and sustainability concerns have made leading fashion brands to gradually shift the fibre mix in favour of synthetic fibres, especially polyester and viscose. Improvement in technical properties of MMF has also supported this shift.”

“We are seeing a definite trend of higher share of polyester and viscose fibre in shirting and suiting fabrics, especially as blend with cotton. There is also a trend of using lower GSM fabric for sarees and other traditional dresses.”

There has been a continuous rise in the number of working women in organised sector and this has not only increased the consumption of western office wear but also dresses suitable for party wear. Fabrics with 100 per cent MMF content or in blend with other natural fibres are very much suitable for such products.

MMF and yarns are dominant in activewear market, and most of the international brands are preferring MMF due to their functional properties like durability, stretching, waterproofing, stain resistance, fire-retardant, moisture absorbent, sustainability, technical advancement, etc.

SRTEPC also sees uniforms as a growing market. Increasing number of school going children, usage of different uniform for different days by many private schools and usage of uniform by increasing number of schools is making this segment to grow. Corporates are also increasingly becoming image conscious and using uniforms, especially for consumer facing activities.

Technical textile market is still at a nascent stage in India and almost all categories will observe significant growth in coming time, which will lead to increased usage of different types of fibres. Fibre composites containing carbon fibre-reinforced plastic is the advance material innovation for light weight savings and shall have more advantages.

Presently India produces over 1,441 million kg of MMF and over 3,000 million kg of man-made filaments. Over 23,000 million sq m of fabrics were produced from MMF and their blends. Most of the MMFs are currently produced in India. India is the second largest producer of polyester and viscose in the world. Major varieties are polyester, viscose, acrylic and polypropylene.

The continuous rise of MMF imports, especially after GST implementation, is affecting the domestic textile industry, says the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) Chairman, Sanjay Jain. There is an increase in imports of all the MMF products post GST; however, there is a substantial increase in imports of MMF yarn and apparel at 83 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively. The main reason for the same being the removal of CVD post GST, which overnight made imports 12 per cent cheaper. Import duty on fabrics and garments was subsequently increased by the government to control imports, hence the imports of fabrics have been relatively under control, but garments due to FTAs could not be controlled by this measure.

According to the CITI chief, the polyester-based products have the highest share in Indian MMF textiles. Imports of polyester yarn in India have increased by a CAGR of about 13 per cent since 2014-15 to reach $95 million in 2018-19. Indonesia is the biggest supplier of polyester yarn to India and imports from there have increased exponentially at a CAGR of 59 per cent during the same period. Imports of polyester yarn increased 193 per cent from 2,908,000 kg in July 2018 to 8,535,000 kg in July 2019. While imports of all products in the MMF value chain has steeply increased since the introduction of GST, destructing the domestic manufacturing industry, imports of polyester and viscose spun yarn have particularly shot up multi-fold lately. Imports of polyester yarn increased 193 per cent from 2,908,000 kg in July 2018 to 8,535,000 kg in July 2019. Similarly, viscose yarn imports shot up 342 per cent from 647,000 kg in July last year to 28,58,000 kg in July this year.

“Rising imports are impacting the domestic MMF yarn and garments manufacturers in a big way. It is also not in favour of government’s “Make in India” initiative and is acting as a big disincentive for the upstream industry from investing,” says CITI chief. There are certain structural issues like relatively higher fibre, power and interest rates, which have made the upstream industry costlier and hence attracting cheaper imports from other countries. Further under the GST regime, MMF textile products suffer from an inverted duty structure as MMF fibre, yarn and fabric attracts GST at the rate of 18 per cent, 12 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. This has resulted in heavy blockage of working capital plus GST paid on capital goods, services and certain inputs being added to cost in the hands of the MMF textile buyer.

India, despite having world class fibre manufacturing capacities, is losing out to competitors like Bangladesh and Vietnam who import their fibre requirements. The textile industry cannot meet its $350 billion target unless the MMF segment of industry grows at double digit rate in the years to come, say industry observers.

Industry on high hopes

According to SM Khire, Director of AYM Syntex, synthetic textiles have been growing faster than any other fibres. “It will continue to grow. The availability of cotton is going to be restricted. Even the land available for cotton cultivation is getting limited. In India, the per capita consumption of fabric is too low. Being a developing country, India’s demography with population in the age range between 25 and 35 consisting a huge majority, the demand for fabrics is bound to increase at a faster rate. Thirdly, the application of synthetics is also growing with the R&D the synthetics industry is doing will help increase consumption of synthetic textiles,” says Khire.

AYM Syntex with its 100 per cent focus on synthetics has been developing new applications continuously. “The future is bright for synthetic yarns. There was a time when polyester was never used in the weft for denim. But look at it today. There is no denim manufacturer who is not using polyester in his denim. For synthetic textiles, the blends experiences are also growing widely with new applications in newer textile products,” says Khire.

Synthetics make inroads in South

In the last five years, synthetic textiles including polyester, rayon, Modal, etc are being increasingly used since big houses like Birlas and Reliance have been giving big exposure to such materials, says R Jeyamohan, Director – Projects, Texvalley. He adds: “Buyers for these synthetic materials have also grown exponentially. And this has prompted small manufacturers to focus more on synthetic textiles. For instance, Birlas produce the best viscose in the country and today 47 per cent of this viscose has found a market in south India. About 30 per cent of the manufacturers have shifted from cotton to viscose in these areas. Manufacturers have realised that with fibres like Modal, one can give finishes better than cotton. Synthetics have helped increase the per capita consumption of fabrics from 17,000 to 27,000 kg.”

Talking of the trends in favour of synthetic textiles, Jeyamohan says that technical textiles have also helped in widening the application areas of synthetic textiles. “With cotton prices and availability see-sawing throughout the year, the demand for synthetic textiles is bound to go up as these products of viscose, polyester and speciality fibres have a stable trend in terms of availability and prices,” he opines.

Texvalley is an integrated market centre, set up in Erode in Tamil Nadu, with world-class infrastructure. It is a market assistance set-up for the MSMEs in textiles in the southern part of India. Normally, the units around Texvalley produce grey fabrics, home textiles and garments. The Texvalley marketing centre offers an opportunity for the entrepreneurs to project their textile goods to the buyers from entire country. This concept has helped both the buyers and manufacturers since it reduces significantly the time being spent in sourcing and selling by the buyers and sellers respectively. Because they find 1,000 manufacturers under one umbrella, the time, cost and efforts are saved to a great extent.

Fibre consumption growth to average 3 to 4%

Growth in global fibre consumption is expected to average annually around 3 to 4 percent. Cotton is a valuable fibre in the mix for the textile sector. According to inputs from global brands, the industry can consume up to 31 million metric tons of cotton, said Robert van de Kerkhof, Chief Commercial Officer of Lenzing AG, Austria.

Who’s who in the textile fibre world gathered recently in the picturesque town of Dornbirn on the foot hills of Karren mountain range in Austria. About 700 delegates from over 30 countries discussed the state of the fibre industry with regard to its sustainability initiatives.

While the global consumption of cotton has remained flat at 28 million metric tons, there is potential for additional demand of 3 million metric tons. Talking about the competition between regenerated fibres and cotton, van de Kerkhof emphasised the need for all sorts of fibres. There is no competition between Lyocell and cotton stressed van de Kerkhof. With an annual production capacity of 300,000 metric tons, Lyocell needs friendly partnership with sustainable fibres. Lenzing will have additional 100,000 metric tons of Lyocell for the textile industry, as it will have a new manufacturing plant in Thailand and will be online by the end of 2020. He appreciated the sustainability efforts undertaken by the global cotton industry, but there is more work to do, added van de Kerkhof. He highlighted a few initiatives such as those by the Brazilian cotton sector, which is making planned efforts to develop in regions where there is good rainfall.

According to van de Kerkhof, new products can have blends of cotton with Lyocell to enhance attributes like strength. The US-based Cotton Incorporated is also promoting the concept of developing cotton rich blends to exploit the benefits of different fibre blends. New opportunities are emerging for cotton such as Lenzing’s cotton-based Lyocell fibres, “REFIBRA™.” Cotton for use in technical textiles in both virgin and processed forms is being exploited by many industries these days. Chennai, India-based WellGro United has partnered with a textile manufacturer in South India to deliver cotton for technical textiles.

The 58the annual Dornbirn Fibre Congress highlighted the need for innovation and networking for sustainable growth. And, more importantly, the immediate need for circular economy in the sector.

By: Seshadri Ramkumar, Texas Tech University, USA

Nylon’s big comeback

Nylon, a man-made fibre, is staging a huge comeback. Century Enka, which has been successfully experimenting with synthetic textiles and their blends, today actively champions the use of nylon. Says Anand Swaroop, General Manager, Century Enka: “With textile centres like Surat embracing nylon in big way, the total consumption has gone up to 12,000 tonne per month. Only four years back, it was just 4,000 tonnes. Other centres for nylon are Benares, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. We are trying to push nylon in Tirupur also. Initially, we were doing nylon filament yarn, but now have included spun yarn too.”

Assuring that Century Enka has all the facilities and technologies to provide a variety of solutions to the nylon needs including customised ones. Swaroop enumerates a long list of positive points in favour of nylon. “The moisture percentage of polyester is 0.5, and in cotton it is about 6.5 per cent, and in viscose it is 9 to 10 per cent. Nylon has a moisture absorbency of 4.5 per cent. In the 70s and 80s, the perception of nylon was not good. But today, even blends are possible with nylon. We have started making nylon and Modal blends. It gives better properties like good feel. For instance, polyester has almost nil moisture absorbency, and with viscose’s moisture absorbency and nylon’s drape capability, good saris can be made,” says Swaroop.

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