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Cover Story | June 2016

LINEN RAGE IS ON!

European flax fibres and Chinese linen yarns are flooding the Indian market thanks to a spurt in consumers’ interest in linen products. Samuel Joseph reveals some emerging trends in the linen scenario.

Linen is the coolest fabric material in the world, but its market is getting warmer day by day in India, thanks to a spurt in promotion mounted by the big names including Grasim, Raymond and many more small players. There has been a three-fold increase in the consumption of linen in India in the last five years, and the linen market has opened up opportunities for new applications like no other fibre has in the recent times.

Linen is obtained from flax, a bast fibre taken from the stalk of the plant. The lustre is from the natural wax content. Colour of linen is creamy white to light tan.

This fibre can be easily dyed and the colour does not fade when washed. Linen does wrinkle easily but also presses easily. Linen, like cotton, can also be boiled without damaging the fibre. Linen is allergy-free absorbs humidity and allows the skin to breathe is antistatic, antibacterial and has low elasticity. Linen can be washed many times without alteration. It is able to absorb up to 20 times its weight in moisture before it feels damp. Linen can be blended with most of the fibres such as cotton silk, viscose, wool and bamboo.

Raymond has rolled out a television commercial for its linen range, which is part of an eight film product campaign by the brand. The film, follows the journey of a man (dressed in Raymond Linen) experiencing the touch of various natural textures. The film also shows him touching real linen as the words, ‘What’s Real, Feels Real’ flash across the screen. This sums up the characteristics of linen.

Designers interest in linen has been growing drastically. People are more concentrating on comfort. Brands like Colorplus, Allen Solly, Zodiac, Louis Philippe, Benetton and Raymond are producing linen fabrics. “Linen Club - The Ramp” by A.B group is promoting linen exclusively.

Linen fabrics are very popular in hot and humid climatic region such as Asia Pacific and Middle East. The various advantages associated with linen fabrics such as smoothness, coolness, lint-free, softer over longer duration, are driving the global linen fabric market. Moreover the use of linen fabric as a style statement and fashionable accessories in developing countries such as Brazil, India and China is boosting the global linen fabric market.

Alex Vanneste, President of Belgium-based N.V. Jos Vanneste S.A, attributes the spurt in demand of linen in India mainly to the Aditya Birla Group. He said: “Thanks to the loud promotion done by the Aditya Birla Group, linen is becoming very popular in India, where the market has started appreciating the linen fabrics for their suitability in a climate like India’s.” He continued: “The main attractions of flax are they are green, sustainable fibres, anti-allergic and anti-bacterial.”

Vinod Kumar Agarwala, Director of Vinod & Company, the agent for Tung Ga Group in India, said: “The visibility of linen is growing stupendously. You can see it in magazines and newspapers and also televisions. Companies like Raymond are more and more into linen and the consumers are also increasingly favouring linen dresses. Because our climate is suitable for this kind of materials.”

Europe is the largest producer and consumers of the linen fabric in the world. It is then followed by Asia Pacific and North America. Italy, Belgium, and The Netherlands are leading producers of linen fabric in Europe. China and Australia are biggest markets of linen fabrics in Asia Pacific whereas the U.S. accounts for largest market for high quality linen fabric in North America. Asia Pacific market for linen fabric is growing in double digit and expected to grow at even higher rate owing to the fast rise in the purchasing power of consumers in developing countries such as India and China. European and North American markets are expected to grow at a moderate rate.

Said Alex: “Flax has been a tradition in Belgium, and we not only have a conducive weather but all kinds of conditions and facilities for retting properly. Flax needs only 100 days to grow and European Flax covers Belgium, France and Holland. The best flax is available from these countries only. The main processing of the fibre is done in Europe, but now with the high cost of labour in Europe, the spinning, processing and weaving has disappeared from Europe. Now, it is the Asia, where it is shifting phenomenally.”

Major foreign companies operating in linen fabric market include Marks & Spenser, MaxMara, Hugo Boss, China Linen Textile Industry Ltd. (CTXIF), Banana Republic, Peacock Alley, Ralph Lauren and H&M.

Said Ngai Ching Wai, MD, Tun Ga Group: “I have been in business in India in the last five years. The company started 25 years ago in Hong Kong. We are not only selling yarn, but we are mainly making finished fabrics. For India, we are mostly selling a lot of fabrics. We cover other South-East Asian countries also.”

Sundarams Texventures LLP, Mumbai, which represents KINGDOM HOLDING Co, Ltd, China, world’s biggest and 100 per cent linen wet spun yarn manufacturer, has branches in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for marketing and sales of their yarn. Apart from 100 per cent linen yarns, Sundarams Texventures also innovates other blended yarns and make complete supply chain from fibre to fabric to commercialise the products.

Manish Mehta, Director, Sundarams Texventures LLP, said: “From 2008 to 2013, the consumption of linen has increased three-fold in India. Now is the consolidation phase and the consumption will increase again in the very near future. KINGDOM HOLDING, which is world’s biggest producer of linen yarn, controls about 20 per cent globally. They have about 1,10,000 spindles in China. Total linen spindleage in the world is about 5,00,000 spindles. They produce around 18,000 metric tonnes of linen yarn. In India, we sell around 2,000 to 2,500 metric tonnes of linen yarn. Total market demand in India presently is about 17,000 mtpa.”

“We have been selling linen in India for around 20 years,” said Lee Hanzhong of China-based Zhejiang Axiang Flax Textile, a manufacturer and exporter of linen yarn. “We are one of the largest distributors of linen in China. Our capacity is 25,700 spindles and production is 400 tonne every month. Most of the yarn is supplied to the overseas markets including India.”

Hanzhong adds: “Around 1,500 tonne of linen is sold in a year. All linen is 100 per cent flax. Apart from India, Europe is the major market. Our flax comes from Europe. Linen suits the climatic conditions of India. It is also very good for health.”

In India, Birla Cellulose offers the finest range of soft, flowing, 100 per cent natural-based fibre products that are specially designed for apparel and home textile applications. Adding comfort to fabric and enhancing their appeal, Birla Cellulose’s textile fibres are ideal for designing both high-end and everyday apparel.

Europe’s linen spun in China: Tung Ga

The China-based Tun Ga Group, which is also a member of European Flax, is one of the global leaders in linen. Said Ngai Ching Wai, its Managing Director: “I have been in business in India in the last five years. The company started 25 years ago in Hong Kong. We are not only selling yarn, but we are mainly making finished fabrics. For India, we are mostly selling a lot of fabrics. We cover other South-East Asian countries also.”

Tung Ga Group’s main plant is in Shanghai and it produces about 3,000 tonne of linen per year. Vinod & Company, based in Coimbatore is the agent for Tung Ga Group in India. “The demand for linen yarn in India is very buoyant. We see a growth of 10 to 12 per cent for this category in the coming years. The demand has been rising very fast,” said Vinod Kumar Agarwala, Director of Vinod & Company. He added: “The visibility of linen is growing stupendously. You can see it in magazines and newspapers and also televisions. Companies like Raymond are more and more into linen and the consumers are also increasingly favouring linen dresses. Because our climate is suitable for this kind of materials.”

Tung Ga Linen & Cotton (Chang Zhou) Co Ltd is the solely-owned enterprise of Hong Kong Tung Ga Group in Chinese Mainland, which is located in Xinbei District Changzhou city in Jiangsu Province. The area of the whole company and building is 180 acreages and 50,000 square meters respectively. Tung Ga has around 1000 employees, which is one of the leading linen enterprises in China. Its export revenue greatly surpasses other enterprises of the same profession across China and regarded as a bright pearl in Yangtze River Economic Delta.

With the world topping technical equipment, and thousands of advanced spinning machines, such as the imported water spliced automatic winder, providing the capacity of 13,000 wet spindles, the company is heading its glorious weaving career with forward strategy. Over 200 weaving equipment, which include Swiss BENNINGER warping machines and Italian VAMATEX wide looms, make it capable for an annual production of over 2,000 tonne of grey, semi-bleached and yarn dyed linen yarn, and more than 10 million metre of pure linen, linen/cotton, linen/rayon, linen/rayon/terylene and other kinds of blended fabric. The yarn is ranging from 3.5s to 30s (6nm to 50nm). The fabric includes more than 100 famous and new varieties, for example greige, semi-bleached, yarn dyed, dyed, printing, jacquard, super wide fabric, home textile fabric, special functional fabric etc. Eighty per cent of its main products are sold to Europe, American and south-east Asia, taking an enviable position in world linen cloth market and home textile market.

King of all linens: Kingdom

“Our venture with Kingdom began in 2009, and in the initial few years, the CAGR was 20 to 20 per cent and now it has come down a little,” said Manish Mehta, Director of Sundarams Texventures LLP, Mumbai, which represents KINGDOM HOLDING Co, Ltd, China world’s biggest and 100 per cent linen wet spun yarn manufacturer, has branches in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for marketing and sales of their yarn. Apart from 100 per cent linen yarns, it also innovates other blended yarns and make complete supply chain from fibre to fabric to commercialise the products.

Mehta said: “From 2008 to 2013, the consumption of linen has increased three-fold in India. Now is the consolidation phase and the consumption will increase again in the very near future. Kingdom, which is world’s biggest producer of linen yarn, controls about 20 per cent globally. They have about 110,000 spindles in China. Total linen spindleage in the world is about 500,000 spindles. They produce around 18,000 metric tonnes of linen yarn. In India, we sell around 2000 to 2500 metric tonnes of linen yarn. Total market demand in India presently is about 17,000 metric tonnes per annum.”

“Kingdom produces top quality linen yarn in the world. It has 60 per cent market in Italy. Portugal, Korea, Turkey and Japan are Kingdom’s other major markets. In all quality conscious markets in West and East, Kingdom’s share is 60 per cent to 80 per cent. Only in India, it is 20 per cent. India is a price-conscious market,” said Mehta.

Sundarams Texventures LLP was started in February 2015. “Initially, this company was floated out of Texperts, and now it is a separate company. We have even launched a new innovative yarn, Lincell, which is a combination of Lyocell and linen. We buy refined linen from Kingdom and is blended by us with Lyocell. It is much cheaper than linen, and looks like linen and is even softer than linen.”

‘Masters of Linen’ highly optimistic

They are known as the ‘Masters of Linen’, and their worldwide renowned flax fibres, pure linen yarns and linen tops used for blending with other fibres are the results of their optimism, dynamism and know-how. A monthly capacity of 300 tonne fibre production – 1,000 tonne trading and 120 tonne yarn selling allow highly appreciated ‘Just In Time’ deliveries in all parts of the world. N.V. Jos Vanneste S.A. is located in Kortrijk, the historical world centre of the flax industry. The family business is currently run by the fourth generation of Vannestes and Alex Vanneste, President of the Belgian firm, is definitely one of the global ‘linen experts’.

Alex, who was in Mumbai recently spoke to Samuel Joseph, Editor of The Indian Textile Journal in an exclusive interview.

Alex attributes the spurt in demand of linen in India mainly to the Aditya Birla Group. He said: “Thanks to the loud promotion done by the Aditya Birla Group, linen is becoming very popular in India, where the market has started appreciating the linen fabrics for their suitability in a climate like India’s.” He continued: “The main attractions of flax are that they are green, sustainable fibres, anti-allergic and anti-bacterial. Once we were called Masters of Flax, but now we have changed our name to European Flax, and we do everything to promote the advantages of flax. European Flax guarantees that the fibres supplied by it are of superior quality. Almost all the flax farmers of Europe are members. And also the trading community and suppliers. Some Indian companies and Chinese companies are members. But some big Chinese companies like Kingdom and Axiang play on their own.”

Said Alex: “Flax has been a tradition in Belgium, and we not only have a conducive weather but all kinds of conditions and facilities for retting properly. Flax needs only 100 days to grow and European Flax covers Belgium, France and Holland. The best flax is available from these countries only. The main processing of the fibre is done in Europe, but now with the high cost of labour in Europe, the spinning, processing and weaving has disappeared from Europe. Now, it is the Asia, where it is shifting phenomenally.”

Why is there not much investment in spinning of flax yarn in India despite having a strong spinning base in India? “Spinning flax needs very high investment. If you want to start a cotton spinning mill of 100,000 spindles, may be you need $10 million. But even if you want to start a 15,000 spindle linen mill, you will need $15 million.

In addition, the fineness of flax fibres has to be selected and that can be done only with hand. So, the spinners of linen have to solely depend on the selectors and the suppliers for quality. It is a tough process.”

Indians will invest heavily in flax spinning in the future, said Alex. “Now Raymond, Damodar Mills and Bombay Rayon are seriously thinking of adding a lot of linen capacities. The future of fabric is in linen. And the credit goes to the Aditya Birla Group for creating this great demand for linen,” said Alex. Talking of cheaper linen yarn entering India from China, he said: “Chinese have huge capacities of linen. The consumption of linen in India has reached 20,000 tonne per annum. And the projection is 25,000 tonne in the next two years. This needs at least 200,000 spindles in the Indian market. Chinese are exporting their yarn and the import duty is around 30 per cent. One can imagine the profit that Indian companies can make if they set up these capacities to produce linen yarn internally.”

Is there any bottleneck in the processing of linen? Said Alex: “No. Dyeing of linen is less difficult than other fabrics. The basic issue is that linen is a grey fibre, and it needs to be bleached before processing. Since the absorption of linen is higher than cotton, dye affinity is better.”

Alex’s father has been active in the India market, since 1993. “I do not have to say much about European Flax, but I mostly communicate about the potential of linen. Today, linen is in the fashion sector. But making it cheaper, our mission is to make it a commodity. I am fighting a lot to prove this. In Europe, 30 to 32 per cent of linen is used in home furnishing. This trend will come to India too. Automotive seats, curtains, upholstery are the high potential areas. Linen is not only a humidity regulator but also a thermal regulator,” said Alex.

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