Textiles as we know is one of the basic necessity of human existence and hold importance in our daily lives. The Textile industry is the second biggest industry next to Agriculture in our country.
It is also one of the oldest and one of the most important in the country when it comes to its contribution to the economic growth of the country. Like in every other industry, technology has played a major role in the development and advancements in the textile industry.
From each stage starting from yarn to textiles, the technological advancements have paved the way for cost-cutting, less wastage of time, and increased productivity. This paper deals with the structure, technology, and newest innovations of the Indian textile industry.
India has a rich and diverse textile tradition that traces back to the start of human civilization as we know it. Our textile industry has always been a major foreign attraction due to the rich colors and the finesse of our textiles.
Though our growth in the last decades has steadily gone up, we have a long way to go when it comes to competing for our global presence against our neighboring country, China which is nothing short of the rich and cultural heritage of textiles.
Despite the pandemic, India’s textile industry has grown massively and is one of the industries that is self-sustaining and never ceases to provide.
The Indian textile industry is one of the biggest working industries with an enormous raw material and manufacturing foundation. It also has a major influence on the export industry as it generates 1/3rd of the export revenue.
In India, around 2 crore people are directly or indirectly employed in the industry. This includes the farmers who provide Jute, cotton, and other crops that are used for textiles, artisans from the organized or small business owners.
India is home to a lot of small-scale producers and a lot of these people operate in the “unorganized sector” where the government rules and norms are not complied with like the huge textile mills that operate in the “organized sector”. While there are hand-spun and hand-woven textiles that are favored over the mill made in one end of the spectrum, the technologically advanced mill-made textiles provide a wide variety of innovative and multi-purpose fabrics that cannot be produced manually which opens up a lot of options to creators.
Structure of the Textile Industry
The textiles produced and what we consume today, go through a supply chain and it involves a great process flow like every other production chain. The textile industry in India particularly has a lot of individual or small manufacturers who do not have the resources for an integrated chain of industries. These suppliers provide raw materials and feed the supply chain for it to be successful. There are also huge mills that have integrated process flow starting from spinning, weaving, finishing, and apparel production.
However, these mills only account for 3% of the total output in the textile sector. This is predominantly due to the indefinite support and subsidies that the small-scale industries are provided by the government, which also discriminates against larger firms.
To give an overview of the structure in which textile production happens, the process starts with sourcing the fibers, both natural and manmade, which is then spun into yarn. The yarn is sent for processing where the yarn is prepared for weaving or knitting depending on the end product and then it is sent for the loom where the yarn is woven into fabric. The next stage is processing the fabric where is dyed, printed, and made ready for retailing.
Spinning is the process of converting fiber to yarn. Spinning mills are very crucial to the textile industry to convert fiber into yarn and yarn into fabric. This was done manually just a few decades ago, but due to the industrial revolution, spinning mills have been widely popularized in India.
The spinning process also differs for each type of fabric like cotton, wool, jute, etc. depending on the structure of the fiber. The spinning for man-made fibers also differs as they are produced using different polymers during the stage of spinning and they are wound onto cones for easy processing. These spinning mills usually provide the raw materials for the next stages of processing such as weaving, processing, and garment manufacturing.
Several new technological innovations have made the spinning process much more efficient although the quality of conventional spinning has been uncontested. Compact spinning over the traditional ring spinning is becoming the trend when it comes to spinning as it ensures the strength of the yarn, higher efficiency, and great productivity.
2. Weaving and Knitting
Weaving and knitting is the process of converting yarn into fabric form. India’s weaving sector is predominantly filled with small-scale weavers who operate from their homes, and it's very labor-intensive.
There are 3.9 million handlooms, 1.9 million power looms and 137,000 looms under the composite mills. (Handlooms are used to weave fabrics without the use of power and fabric is produced entirely manually. Power looms are mechanized and have 10 times more efficient than power looms.
A composite mill is where spinning, weaving, and processing are all done under one roof). The advancements of the looms due to technology such as air-jet weaving, projectile weaving, and rapier weaving have eliminated the use of a traditional shuttle which has improved the productivity multiple folds.
This stage is also referred to as the finishing stage. The fabric produced in the earlier stage is treated to produce garments, home furnishing, etc. This stage includes dyeing, printing, and other processes. There are around 2300 processors in India.
Processing is one of the most water and heat-intensive processes in the textile manufacturing industry. A few years ago, the industry had not realized how wasteful it was towards water usage when it comes to processing and dyeing.
Due to the negative impact it had on the environment, the government stepped in to impart strict rules about water re-usage and banned a lot of toxic dyes that contaminated the land and the water bodies. Since then, there have been a lot of new and efficient treatments of textiles.
Digital printing for instance is one of the newest techniques to give color to a fabric with minimal water usage. Nowadays we have dyes that adhere to the fiber instantly and more quickly eliminating the need for water.
“Air dyeing” is the new age technology that eliminates up to 95% less water compared to the traditional dyeing method. This method uses air to help the dye penetrate the fibers instead of water. There are huge Indian companies that are investing in the “Air-Dyeing” or CO2 Dyeing, which will be the next big thing in textile processing.
India is home to a lot of garment industries that export tones of garment pieces in a year. There are about 77000 small-scale industries including exporters and domestic manufacturers.
Technology through the face of E-Commerce has already had a massive impact in the last century. This has provided a whole new passage for the customers to communicate to the manufacturers/retailers. The massive influx of western fashion has caused drastic and constant changes in the Indian fashion trends to which the textile industry should cater.
The constant up-gradation of machinery and e-commerce has enabled our country to continuously compete with other countries in terms of clothing export and garment manufacturing.
This is the basic structure of how the textile industry in India works. There are millions of people who are directly or indirectly employed by the industry in India and the technological advancements are proving to be a boon as the industry grows with the demand. Without technology, our presence as one of the leading countries to produce textiles and clothing would have been a major challenge.
Impact of Technology on Textile Industry in India
Technology has helped the machinery with productivity and cost-cutting. The new developments in the machinery are made to profit both the manufacturer and the product due to its efficiency and heightened product quality.
The textile industry is nothing short of its adaptation capabilities. The government has also taken a lot of initiative when it comes to textile manufacturing as it is one of the largest contributors to the gross income of the nation.
New technologies like CAD (computer-aided design), CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) have brought significant changes in clothing manufacturing and organization. Information technology has also had a major impact in facilitating the export of textiles and garments.
A wave of innovation in the textile industry is the coming of Industry 4.0 where automation and Artificial intelligence are included in the machinery for textile production.
Sustainable Technology for the Textile Industry
In the fast-moving world where we give more importance to productivity and efficiency, we lose sight of what is important. The over-consumption of natural resources has increased out of control due to rapid industrialization.
Although textiles are one of the most important consumer goods in the world, the industry’s impact on the environment is worsening day by day. At every stage of textile and garment production, huge amounts of energy, water, and plenty of chemicals are used. But due to the growing awareness of the consumers, they select eco-friendly and sustainable options over the conventional ones. This has also given the technology providers an urge to work on improving the technology to reduce the damage to the environment and reduce the consumption of natural resources.
Innovative fabrics that are less damaging to the environment will replace conventional cotton fibers as it is one of the most exploitative when it comes to water consumption and wastage.
Many international designers have adopted bio-based fur and other sustainable options. There are also innovative plant-based fabrics that are being produced like the Pinatex, made from pineapple leaf, and Muskin which is a vegetable leather from the mushroom.
Technological Advancements Made in the Textile Industry
Trends in the textile industry keep changing and the production sector has to adapt accordingly. A few years ago polyester was fashionable, however, people preferred cotton more later on. Now, people have started to think more about sustainability in fashion.
Technical textiles are a segment of textiles produced predominantly for functional purposes and not for aesthetical purposes. The demand for technical textiles has been on an upward trend in recent years due to economic conditions.
Due to its versatility, cost-effectiveness, sustainability, durability, the demand for technical textiles has seen an upsurge in the global market. The government supports the production of textile technology as its use is endless and is widely used across ministries like agriculture, water resources, Railways, transport and highways, shipping, etc. India is already on its way to maximizing the potential of this sector.
Leather is one of the glamourous textile products that is usually associated with grandeur. However, the production of authentic leather is not so glamourous, and its highly toxic, and involves huge amounts of toxic chemicals.
Multiple sustainable options are plant-based that can be used as an alternative to leather which mimics its appearance. Pinatex (pineapple leather), Mycelium (Mushroom leather), orange fiber (orange fruit), coffee ground fiber (coffee), and banana fiber (Banana) are some of the vegan leather and natural fibers that are being produced in Bangladesh and India.
Indian textile conglomerate Arvind Ltd has introduced a new technology fabric that is said to be Anti-viral for its fabrics. This technology is said to be the first in the world that will be effective against coronavirus. This chemical can be applied to many fabrics including shirts and suits.
Supported by the strong domestic consumption as well as export demand, the future for Indian textiles looks promising. Due to disposable income being on the rise, the retail sector has thrived in the past decade with its entry into the Indian market. To bring the vision for growth in the future, technology will play a vital role. The advancements in technology would provide new opportunities to create employment and competitiveness. We have to adapt to the technology to survive the booming industry.