India being a vast country with several apparel sourcing clusters presents a very mixed picture in sourcing. One’s experience depends on the product and market being catered to and the ability to find the right cluster. Or else, things can go downhill pretty fast.
I have been sourcing apparel for the past 24 years now, of which 12 years were for a liaison office and thereafter on my own as a buying agency. The Quota years took me to Nepal, Maldives, Kenya, Kuwait, Bahrain and Madagascar, all of which faded as the quotas went, while Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Indonesia have been constant.
Most of my business was and still is large runs in menswear for discounters in the US and Mexico: Target, Walmart, Ross, Sam’s Club, Steinmart, Shopko, Coppel, Liverpool, Dorians and the rare windfall of a Costco order. In this business I burnt my fingers long ago in India and don’t even attempt to pursue it here. As in the earlier years and even in 2020–21, the story is the same.
MSMEs not equipped for largescale production
If I order 48,000 men’s washed chinos for a 75-day delivery and come the date, nothing is ready! Inspections start 90th day onwards, are done for some eight shipments over two months, with endless exchanges on fabric, colour-matching, brand compliance failures and at the end: huge shortages. The same product in Bangladesh I get 20% cheaper, and using China fabric, which means three weeks to be factored in for ocean transit, and it still is shipped before needed deadline of 75 days in mostly one inspection and no compliance failures.
Every submit is delayed—from fabric, colour dips, strikeoffs, fabric readiness, commencement of production to actual production run. A lot of time gets lost because of poor financial condition of manufacturers, due to which they delay inordinately in mill payments, causing the mills to slow down the fabric delivery. Not that the mills produce in time themselves.
These unplanned delays mean no production plan can be adhered to. I have so often witnessed makers delaying a month in fabric pick-up and then sending by air the garments pre-paid to the US! I have also seen how, due to all these variables, there are months when all production comes together, the manufacturer will then run here and there for outsourcing and that has a major impact on quality, profitability and timelines; these will be followed by a month of an idling factory, which again is a huge loss due to the fixed overheads.
To sum up, the main reason is lack of scale in mills, production and washing units and low labour productivity; the same shirts get made 16 pieces a day per machine in Bangladesh versus 10 in India. Hence, with the exception of a few large export groups, one’s sourcing experience in large runs is not very encouraging in India. Perhaps this the reason why largescale bulk production has not moved to India.
Added to this is the absolute lack of production facilities for exports in ladies intimatewear, swimwear, tailored pants and jackets/blazers, outwerwear and skiwear, fine gauge sweaters and good quality heavy, matte synthetic fabrics with Lycra. One can count the export units on your fingertips. This makes the country miss out on a large chunk of the sourcing pie. There are many medium sized units who do make the categories mentioned above, however they cater only to the domestic market.
The figures speak for themselves. See Table 1 below:
The growth disparity is evident, and it is pretty embarrassing as India is one of the world’s largest suppliers of cotton, polyster and viscose fibre, and the industry took off here 20 years before the listed countries.