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The origins of textiles can be traced to man's great transition from a nomadic, food-seeking hunting culture to a communal food-storing surplus civilisation. Using culture, this evolution was confined around the four great river cradles of civilization- The Nile Valley, The Tigris-Euphrates Plain, The Yangtze Valley and The Indus Valley of North-Western India where it began in around 2500 BC. Primitive clothing styles were determined by the climate and nature of raw materials which naturally differed from region to region.
Very little has been known till now about the birth of the Indian textile industry, but it has been documented in various citations that this industry has its origins in the Indus Valley Civilisation as early as the 5th Century. People of that civilisation wore hand-spun cotton for garments using indigo colours in their fabric
The Indian economy is predominantly agrarian and has been so since the time historians documented the Indian economy. In their records, it has also been mentioned that through time the second largest industry that has significantly contributed towards the growth of the nation is the textile industry. It has been the employer to millions of people across the length and breadth of the country.
The textile industry of India, which is more than 5000 years old, has undergone significant developments starting from its modest beginnings as handlooms in villages to large-scale modern-day textile mills. From the era of ‘Cholas’, ‘Seljuks’, and ‘Safavids’ till now, Indian Textile Industry has come a long way. The story of textiles in India is one of the oldest in the world. The earliest surviving Indian cotton threads date to around 4000 BC and dyed fabrics from the region are documented as far back as 2500 BC. India’s textiles were so central to its identity abroad that in ancient Greece and Babylon the very name ‘India’ was shorthand for ‘cotton’.
The Indus Valley Civilisation was the centre of textile production in India where a complete urban civilization centred around the two cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, which thrived between 2500 and 2000 BC. During the excavation of these civilisations, along with the mini figurines and engraved seals, numerous spindle whorls of wool, anchors, cotton and some copper sewing needles were found. Impression of woven fabric and a large number of cotton seeds were also unearthed which date from 5000 BC by which time it appears that cotton cultivation and textile weaving were already in an advanced stage.
The textile industry in India is an important segment of Indian industries and reflects the country's diverse socio-economic and cultural heritage. The development of the textile industry in India can be classified broadly into three distinct stages – The pre-colonial period, the Colonial period and the post-independence period.
The Textile industry of India was well-known to the world much before the colonial period. Silk from China and Cotton from India were important import goods in the western countries. The access to markets was greatly amplified by the discovery of a sea route via the Cape of Good Hope in the 15th Century by the great traveller Vasco De Gama. With the entry of the East India Company, the production and trade of Indian textiles and fabrics in the medieval period were further intensified. Artisans developed their own styles of treating and decorating the textiles with locally available raw materials in each area. For instance, Tavernier wrote that Barouch (Bharuch), with large meadows full of lemon trees, was particularly known for the bleaching of textiles that required lime juice.
During the Colonial Period, a large variety of Indian Calico and other types of cotton production made inroads into the British Empire and the sheer variety of production styles and the skills of the Indian artisans accumulated through generations made the products manufactured in India far superior in quality and range than the textiles produced in Europe.
However, the situation began to change after the colonial period. As more affordable clothes made of machine-spun yarn flooded not only European but also Indian markets, the traditional hand-spun yarn and textiles faced stiff competition, which became even more pronounced with the use of chemical dyes in the West. After the Industrial Revolution began in England, it removed all import duties on British goods in the Indian market, while the English East India Company imposed heavy import duties on Indian clothes in the British markets. The Indian textile mills were not able to withstand the competition from machine-made goods produced in Britain, and gradually this led to the decline of the Indian textile industry during the colonial period.
With the singular agenda of maximizing profits, the textile industry in India like all other industries under the colonial regime suffered major losses. It is therefore very pertinent to analyse the situation with the independence movement of India and the boycott of British mill-made clothes and the promotion of khadi became the identity of Swaraj or the self-rule movement under the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi.
The British Rule in India saw the imposition of various levies and taxes with import and export barriers to the already fledgling textile industry in India. Britain had already started exporting mill-made fabrics and yarns to India in the 1780s. The flooding of low-cost fabrics and textiles in India from Britain severely hampered and damaged the development of the indigenous textile industry. This situation created the cloth crisis in India during British rule.
On August 15, 1947, India attained freedom from British rule. Freedom also brought in a lot of challenges of industrialisation and modernisation. Alongside a drive to increase factory production to clothe India’s vast population, the government set up the All-India Handloom Board in 1952 to nurture hand-weaving and other textile crafts. In 1961, the National Institute of Design was established, and designers began to play a key role in the modernising process.
The Government of India rapidly took charge of the situation and implemented a slew of measures and initiatives to revive the textile industry. The Indian textiles industry is now a well-established one with significant attributes and a lustrous future. The country is the second biggest textiles manufacturer worldwide, right after China. The Indian textile industry is an integral part of the overall manufacturing sector of the country and is a major contributor to the country’s economy. India’s textile industry is also the largest in the country in terms of employment generation. It not only generates jobs in its own industry but also opens up scope for other ancillary sectors.
The textiles and apparel industry in India has strengths across the entire value chain from fibre, yarn, and fabric to apparel. The Indian textile and apparel industry is highly diversified with a wide range of segments ranging from products of traditional handloom, handicrafts, wool, and silk products to the organized textile industry in India. The organized textile industry in India is characterized by the use of capital-intensive technology for the mass production of textile products and includes spinning, weaving, processing, and apparel manufacturing.
Textile Industry in India continues to be dominated by cotton, accounting for nearly 3/4th of the total fibre consumption in the country. India is now recognized as the largest producer of cotton and jute garments in the world. There is tough competition from China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Vietnam for exporting textile products to the global market. However, the Indian textile industry still manages for a comeback even after the decline of the business in 2020 – 21. Since the textile industry not only comprises large textile mills and high-end garment boutiques, self-employed artisans from rural areas are also promoted through government schemes, like MGNREGA. Many rural cooperatives and NGOs are also providing support to people working on a small scale for the textile industry.
The Indian textile industry is aiming to export products worth $40 to $100 billion within 2027. The promotion of this industry through several government schemes has been the greatest in the last three decades. The apparel industry is progressing fast with the manufacturing of more varieties of products. This textile business is also spreading in more countries across the world, leading to more earning of foreign money.
Owing to the pandemic, the demand for technical textiles in the form of PPE suits and equipment is on the rise. The government is supporting the sector through funding and machinery sponsoring. Top players in the sector are achieving sustainability in their products by manufacturing textiles that use natural recyclable materials. The technical textiles market for automotive textiles is projected to increase to US$ 3.7 billion by 2027, from US$ 2.4 billion in 2020. Similarly, the industrial textiles market is likely to increase at an 8% CAGR from US$ 2 billion in 2020 to US$ 3.3 billion in 2027. The overall Indian textiles market is expected to be worth more than US$ 209 billion by 2029.
With a rise in disposable income, the need for goods in the Indian textile sector has expanded, resulting in enormous demand in both the local and foreign markets. Consequently, India’s textile industry has a bright future due to the rapid expansion of the retail sector, government assistance, and investments.
Anushka Das is a Textile Design graduate from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), New Delhi with an experience of over 15 years with the textile and fashion industry.
She has been associated with reputed designers Neeru Kumar ...
and Ritu Kumar, working as Head Designer spearheading numerous design collections across a span of 3 years for both domestic and international clients.
Anushka started her label- Anushka-Annasuya in the year 2010, a label for apparel and home, that is sensitive towards maintaining a balance between Indian aesthetics and contemporary demands.
She is also associated with prestigious brands Fabindia, Jaypore and Ajio for design development and production of garments.
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