Tamil Nadu, the Emerging Technical Textiles Hub in Asia
Tamil Nadu, the Emerging Technical Textiles Hub in Asia
Posted March 23, 2021
2020 has been a unique year for various reasons. Not only did COVID-19 etch it in the annals of history, but it also represented a strategic shift in the demand for products from the textiles industry. From the production of fabrics to end-use purchases, the pandemic hit the textiles ecosystem multi-fold. The decline in the overall revenue of the sector from $2,443 billion globally in 2019 to $1,971 billion in 2020 (a figure comparable to the beginning of the decade) is an indicator of the impact of COVID-19 on the sector.
However, viewed differently, the disruption caused by COVID-19 represents immense opportunities for countries like India to capitalize upon. For one, since the 1990s, the West has been the hub for global consumption of traditional textiles and apparel products, consuming more than 59% of the total sales.
Classification of Technical Textile
Today, however, with the rise of the economies in the Global South, countries in the Asia Pacific such as India and China are consuming more than 77% of the apparel sales in the world, leaving the West to a marginal percentage of about 26%. With the Asia Pacific becoming the hub for the production and sales of textiles commodities, the opportunities for investment are diverse.
Similarly, technical textiles, known for their technical and functional purposes rather than for aesthetic characteristics, are also poised to grow at a CAGR of 5.8% by 2022 in the Asia Pacific region. Owing to advancements in technological frontiers, rise in disposable income, and increased awareness among end-users, China and India are set to become the growth centre for technical textiles in the region. India, in particular, with the liberalisation of the economy in the 1990s and the growth of demand for technical textile products is well placed for the take-off.
At present, India’s per capita consumption of technical textiles is placed at 1.7 kg compared to an average of 10–12 kg by other developing countries. A recent report shows that this lower consumption of technical textiles in India is because 41% of the consumption stems from products of Packtech which are primarily low-value low-technology such as, soft luggage, jute sacks, and tote bags. While the share of Indutech, Mobitech, and Hometech with high-value high-technology are only 11%, 10%, and 10% respectively. The share of Meditech stood at 4.4% in 2018, a minuscule share followed by Sportech and Clothtech respectively.
While there are several inherent advantages for the growth of technical textiles in India and Tamil Nadu specifically, many raw materials used in the production of sanitary products, artificial ligaments, seat belt webbings, airbags are heavily imported. In this context, for India to capitalise upon the growth opportunities, investments in Research & Development, Innovation, Joint Ventures with global technical textiles companies are vital.
As technical textiles manufacturing is still nascent, minimizing the cost of production of high-value high-technology products can be a win-win arrangement for manufacturers as investments in India will provide access to the burgeoning market as well.
Major Technical Textile Players in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu, in this context, has the requisite growth factors to drive manufacturing investments in the sector:
Mature Allied Industries for end-use Consumption
As highly functional products, technical textiles provide higher value addition to various end-user sectors. With the largest automobile and auto-component cluster in India, Tamil Nadu’s automobile ecosystem is well poised to attract high-value high technology Mobitech investment. Similarly, with 50% of India’s textile mills in Tamil Nadu and complementary clusters of knitting, weaving, and medical devices manufacturing in Coimbatore, and Tiruppur, the region provide immense opportunities for Meditech investments. In short, Tamil Nadu has the requisite end-user industries to spur growth in technical textiles
R&D and Skilled Manpower
Availability of skilled manpower with a specialised skill set is an important requirement for the technical textiles industry. With over 18% of India’s technical universities in Tamil Nadu and specialised institutions like Institute of Textile Technology, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International School of Textiles & Management, and colleges offering various textile engineering courses, the state can provide specialized skilled manpower with an abundant workforce. Further, the two centres for excellence for Meditech and Indutech at the South India Textile Research Association (SITRA) and PSG College of Technology respectively, provide a fillip to spur R&D and innovation in these segments via product testing facilities, prototype development, personnel training, incubation centre, product standardization, and knowledge sharing. The way SITRA stood up to the demand for Meditech products amidst the pandemic is an example of adaptive innovation.
Cross-Sectoral Ecosystem and Enabling Infrastructure
The state can provide excellent backward and forward linkages for industries in the technical textiles segment to furnish. Tamil Nadu with strong cross-sectoral component linkages from automobile, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and general manufacturing is well placed in this regard. For instance, Shree Renga Polymer, a speciality fibre manufacturer in Karur, Tamil Nadu is able to cater to the demands of the Mobitech and Meditech industries. Similarly, Shobikaa Impex, manufacturers of mosquito net, a segment of Agrotech are able to produce high-value high technology products by incorporating alpha-cypermethrin (an insecticide ingredient) into the yarn structures. Building on its sectoral complementarities, the state has induced the development of specialized clusters of technical textiles in Chennai, Coimbatore, and Madurai regions. Further, with national and international collaborations, Tamil Nadu has developed state-of-the-art technical textiles parks in Karur and Chennai region. This is supplemented by attractive industrial and sector-specific policies by the state government and the Government of India’s comprehensive ‘National Technical Textiles Mission.’
Lastly, international experience shows that proactive institutions can spur economic development and steer businesses to grow in a region. OCED notes that dedicated agencies which can highlight investment opportunities, identify local partners, and providing seamless services for investors will play a vital role in developing this sector. Efforts undertaken by Tamil Nadu in this regard will lead to greater diversification of the sector and promotion of high-value high-technology manufacturing in India.
Contributed by Gaurav Daga, Associate Vice President, Guidance
 Chapter 2. Investment Promotion and Facilitation, Policy Framework for Investment User’s Toolkit, OCED, 2011.