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Special Feature | May 2018

Knitting a future in fashion with changes

Apart from fashion and sports textiles, knitting industry offers a wide range of technical textile materials also, says Avinash Mayekar.

We come across various fashion shows conducted in fashion hubs like Milan, Paris, London, New York, Loss Angeles, Dubai etc. These are the trendsetters in the society and from technology point of view knitting gels well with innovative fashion trends. As per the fashion demand taste of consumer gets changed and in turn it changes the types of fabric. Whenever we want to have an appearance which is more stable usually in the case of office wears and formal occasion, apparels stitched by weaving technology are prominently used. Whereas whenever there is need of flexibility like while playing sports or in case of inner garments where in the fabric bends, expands and regains its original form as per the moment of one’s body then knitting technology is used. The knitted garments in other words must have good elasticity for stretching & regaining to the original form as well as to fit & adjust to various shapes & curves of the body elements.

In knitting, there are two specific types, circular knitting and warp knitting. Circular knitting is a combination of wefts and courses. In this the threads of much softer feel are interlaced with each other to form various loops that make the fabric more open and enhance fullerness of the fabric. Thus the net like strands of yarn working together to form the fabric will keep on changing their dimensions as required for the physical movements of human beings. It majorly uses cotton and viscose yarns. The other technology i.e. warp knitting is mostly used for technical textile applications and for inner wear that needs more strength. It has much wider width than conventional technology and more prominently used with synthetic yarns.

In knitting, there is a wide variety of product categories. The knitted fabrics having advantage of being readily constructed into smaller pieces is used for making garments like socks, caps, inner garments & baby products. As athlete requires flexibility as an essential quality, knitted fabrics are used to prepare sportswear like track suits, ski suits swimwear, jersey, pullovers, etc. The biggest advantage of knitted apparels is that they are not stitched to fit only one particular size but to a range of size in which an inch variation will not make much of a difference. In fact this attribute helps them to produce products like nightwear, pyjamas, bathrobes, dressing gowns etc. Knitted product basket also contains other items like Overcoats, car-coats, capes, cloaks, wind-cheaters, wind-jackets, ensembles, jackets, trousers, bib, brace overalls and also knitted bed covers are produced using knitting technology.

Apart from fashion and sport textile the knitting industry is offering a wide range of technical textile materials. The recent developments in knitting technologies manufacture functional apparels, medical textile, home fabrics, construction materials and automotive textiles. The developments in flat knitting technology produces technical textile materials like shoe uppers, orthopedic supports, agrotextiles and textile accessories having complex shapes.

The developments in warp knitting helps produce heavy carbon-fibre grids used in reinforcing concrete.
Globally knit market has an edge over the weaving technology mostly because of the fast changing fashion across both the genders demanding easy and comfortable wear like t-shirts, pyjama’s, tracks, sportswear having much less stiffness associated with shirts & trousers.

In case of India the ratio is exactly reverse our textile export is dominated by woven apparels. This reverse scenario is not because the fashion or demand is different in India but majorly because of the raw material cost. As knitting technology requires using good quality yarns having specific quality parameters as against the normal less costly yarns that are easily used in weaving. The quality of yarn is an essential parameter in knitting as the yarn needs to have excellent strength to pass through the holes of needle which are in continuous movement for achieving fullerness of fabric. Thus as good quality of yarn is bit more costly than regular yarn, major fabric manufacturers produce woven fabrics than knitted fabrics.

If we talk of the yarn required for weaving or knitting, the yarn used for weaving is stronger and has twist multiplication factor 10 to 15% higher than the yarn for knitting. Thus production per unit is a bit lower as compared to the knitted yarn. The yarn for knitting must have soft feel due to its direct touch to human body. It also needs open structure for having good absorbency to soak up the sweat and keep the body cool & dry. With knitting technologies garments are also produced using synthetic yarns so that the fabric absorb 100% sweat & transit it to the outer layer maintaining complete dryness in the inner layer of fabric which is directly in contact with skin thus avoiding any infections or irritations to the intimate body parts. Such types of fabrics are mainly used in high end sportswear.

In India as a whole till now there has not been much progress in knitted garments. This may be because firstly it’s directly correlated with the fashion segment which is born in Milan & Paris and influenced only to a basic level in India. Secondly these knitted fabric demands use of dyed yarns that are not developed to the fullest in India. Also the latest trend of mélange t-shirts requires mélange yarns which is also available only in small portions. Thus we are more famous on woven trends and at a nascent stage on knitted side. It will be interesting to see the same trend of knitting & weaving in Global and Indian markets. Recently the changes have started as the export of knit apparels is growing with CAGR of 4% and was worth Rs. 49,833 Cr in 2016-17 while the export of woven apparel is growing slowly with a CAGR of 1%.

From manufacturing point there is a vast difference in weaving and knitting operations. Knitting is much simpler and faster process as there is no need of pre knitting preparatory. In fact directly yarn cones are placed in creels and then knitted fabric is produced. Whereas in weaving there is a need to perform certain pre weaving process like warping, sizing, pre-sizing and then weaving adding to the complications. So the overall cost of manufacturing becomes lower in case of knitting. In case of processing too, knit processing is easier as the knitted fabric is directly processed in a continuous format than compared to woven processing that involves lot many batch processes. Nowadays there are many plants wherein woven fabrics are also continuously processed but for that huge production capacities are needed.  The same is not true for knitting as small capacity plant are also very well capable to process the knitted fabrics. The simpler, easier & cost effective knitting & knit processing process will be the game changer factor for investments in knitting by new entrepreneurs.

Knit fabric
Indian import of knit fabric was $500 million in 2016 and is expected to reach $583 million in 2018 at a CAGR of 8 per cent whereas the exports are growing with a CAGR of 6 per cent.The major knit fabric import into India is from China contributing 74 per cent of total imports.  Our major export partners are Sri Lanka, Bangladesh & USA together accounting for 78% share in total exports of knit fabric from India. It is estimated that India will produce around 22.04 Bn sqmt of knitted fabric by 2017-18.

Knit apparels
The fact that India dominates the yarn & fabric segments in world textile industry and is slowly growing in the apparel sector is true in knitted textile as well. India’s import of apparel textile is as high as 32 per cent accounting to 5.7 million in 2017 and is estimated to reach $7.6 million by 2018 and the major apparel import is form China contributing 47 per cent of share followed by Bangladesh having share of 14 per cent. India’s export of knit apparel is majorly to USA & Europe.

Ludhiana & Tirupur are the two major hubs for knit wears in India apart from them the industry is also present in the form of clusters at Kanpur, Kolkata and Rajkot. There are also few knitwear joint present in Vapi, Bangalore and Rajasthan. In India the exports of intimate wear is growing with a CAGR of 5 per cent and has reached $1,223 million by 2017. 

Conclusion
When it comes to a layman distinction between knitting & woven, it means comparing a shirt with t-shirt both having its own perks. A shirt gives a more firm & steady look and also the ideal preferred formal attire for ages now whereas a t-shirt gives more comfortable and casual look to an individual. The latter is preferred & used mostly by youths & the mid generations on outings & non formal occasions. The trends of woven shirts preference as a work wear or formal occasion is constant for decades now. Recently however fashion is evolving. For the young working generations the “usual” is “boring” and plain & so they have shown a shift towards a semi-formal attire.

A usual tuck in casual t-shirt & a jacket paired with formal pant or even denims is the new formal for them. There is no longer black & white in formals, knitted t-shirts are gaining demand not only on casual Fridays but a tuck in t-shirt with company branding is preferred formal combination at many occasions including corporate uniforms. Secondly with the importance to sports and fitness in an individual’s life today the demand for knitwear will be at all level highest. So the knitting industry having its own advantages & fashion at its side is said to have tremendous growth in coming years. The need of the hour demanding industrial technical textile applications like reinforcing concrete, medical textile, sport textile etc will add to the growth of this sector. So it is only wise for entrepreneurs to go with the latest developments in the sector and reap higher profits. As it is said fashion always wins over basic needs Indian textile industry would witness much higher growth in complete value chain of knitted fabrics.

The article is authored by Avinash Mayekar, MD & CEO, Suvin Advisors Pvt. Ltd

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