By Prasansha Saha
February 08, 2023 (IANSlife) The Indian textile industry is one of the most distinctive in the world thanks to ancient skills and cultural traditions. As per IBEF, we are the second largest producer of garments in the world and have a centuries-old textile industry that consists of a number of sectors, including hand-spun and hand-woven fabrics, as well as mills. The strength of India's textile sector is attributed to the wide diversity of natural and synthetic fibres and yarns. However, there has lately been an increase in the synthetic fibre business, which has grown tremendously over the previous decade. Fast fashion has grown more common and clothing is created in shorter timescales, with new patterns appearing every few weeks to meet the demand for the newest trends. But this comes at the expense of waste.
At the same time, there is also a desire to return to slow fashion, with superior quality items that have a longer shelf life and usage. Today's consumer is aware of the damages caused by fast fashion and is ready to return to sustainable fabrics/garments and retain their value for longer. The increase in awareness of the damage caused by synthetic materials to the environment has led to the revival of natural fibres.
Despite India's rich heritage, the fast fashion business gained traction, resulting in the widespread usage of synthetic and other artificial fibres. Not surprisingly, textile mills quickly emerged as one of the significant industrial pollutants, accounting for one-fifth of global industrial water pollution.
However, when the severe repercussions of climate change became evident to all cohorts, including policymakers, what started as a progressive movement from fast fashion to slow fashion. As a result, there has been an increase in demand for the commercial use of natural fibre-based composites in recent years. Natural fibres have advantages like low-cost, lightweight, renewability, biodegradability, and high specific properties like eco-friendliness, regenerability etc.
Opportunities for natural fibres
Natural fibres are considered the backbone of the Indian textile industry, which is expected to grow from $138 billion to $195 billion by 2025. The market for natural fibres has been steadily increasing, which provides opportunities for farmers in the country, mainly those farming cotton, silk, jute, wool, and linen. India’s farm cotton output stands at ~21 USD Bn which was 12.5 Bn in FY21 mainly due to an increase in the price of raw cotton. India is the 2nd largest producer and consumer of Silk with a production value amounting to ~34000 MT. India exported ~USD 18.9 Bn worth of cotton and related goods IN FY 22 - USA, China and Bangladesh were the major export destinations. The silk export stood at ~USD 208 Bn major importers were USA, UAE and China. (IBEF)
Buyers in developing nations such as India are becoming more aware of the benefits of sustainability and the complete life cycle of products and resources, right from the source to the final output. The expansion of the textile sector will be driven by rising household income, and increased demand from housing, hotels, and healthcare industries.
Types of Natural Fibres
Cotton and silk have been the best natural fibres. Cotton holds the lion's share of the market as far as textile applications are concerned. The fibre grows around the seeds of the cotton plant and cotton has been used since about 3000 BC. Cotton is soft, substantial, flame retardant, hypo-allergenic and easy to wash. It is the most popular natural fabric used in making clothing. Silk is also extremely popular and is in high demand globally. With significant government and international subsidies for silk projects and marketing plans, the industry has snowballed in recent years. Silk exports are also increasing rapidly.
Apart from cotton & silk, some resource-efficient fibres include Linen, Hemp, Modal, Banana, Viscose and bamboo.
Hemp is an excellent example of how textiles can be made with minimal environmental impact. It has been used for centuries, making it an ideal plant fibre that can benefit society while reducing our carbon footprint. It is an extremely robust fabric that lasts longer than cotton and does not lose shape easily. Hemp fabrics are hypoallergenic and non-irritating to the skin. Hemp has the appearance and feel of traditional linen. Hemp materials can soften with time and washing. It is also used to make tapestries, hats, shawls and towels.
Banana Fibre: Banana stems and peels, like hemp, provide fibres that can be used to make textiles. This has been done for generations, but the world of Western fashion has only recently recognised the textile potential of the common banana. Because of its natural appeal and texture, it is more suitable for home furnishing like blankets, rugs, mats, etc. It is light in weight and has strong absorbance quality thus a good fit for summer wear fabric too.
Bamboo: Bamboo is an environmentally friendly natural cellulose regenerated biodegradable textile material. The fibre generated from Bamboo is of the highest quality. The yarn produced from bamboo usually has a silky texture and the fabric made from this is called bamboo linen. Bamboo fibre has already acquired appeal in the textile sector due to its aesthetic qualities, fineness, flexibility, inherent antibacterial properties, and UV resistance.
Modal: Modal is a lighter, breathable, and more durable version of the traditional rayons. It is made using wood chip cellulose from Beech trees only. Modal has emerged as a wear-resistant, fade-resistant, and breathable soft fiber. Therefore, today, modal is used in various applications like clothing, furnishings, bedding, etc. It is mainly used as an alternative to cotton or silk. Modal is great for sportswear, base layers, and t-shirts as the fabric's weave is very breathable.
Ecovero: EcoVero is created from certified and sustainably managed wood pulp, giving it a significantly more environmentally friendly option than other fabrics on the market. EcoVero is not only better for the environment, but it is also soft and gentle on the skin, making it an excellent solution for those with sensitive skin. Ecovero emits half the amount of CO2 and consumes half the amount of energy and water, and its pulp bleaching is completely chlorine-free.
While the Indian textile industry is largely self-reliant due to the abundance of raw materials, affordable local labour and effective supply chains, much is left to elevate India’s position to be the top textile manufacturer and exporter from its current runners-up ranking. This is where government support comes into play. Climate experts and industry professionals are pushing the case for a fashion industry shift towards developing more sustainable and resilient materials that can withstand extreme weather patterns. The uptake of sustainability standards within the textile industry represents progress towards a future in which fashion can become a leading industry in environmentally sound and best practices.
(Prasansha Saha is the VP Design of Resha Mandi)
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