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Cotton Knitwear

Cotton knitwear has acquired a new and fashionable dimension. Already in vogue around the world knitwear has now become very popular in the Indian market.

When one talks of casual wear the first item that one thinks of is knitwear and that normally means of T-shirt would have been termed as a vest and would have been relegated into the underwear department. Today, come summer and it is time for cotton knitwear and every year there is a seasonal spurt of T-shirt manufacturers who take advantage of the season in India and abroad. Since 1980 the knitwear market in India for the local and export sections has acquired a new and fashionable dimension. Initially a garment worm on the playgrounds, the T-shirt began to attain a certain amount of dignity as world and Indian designers looked at it with new-found respect. It is therefore not surprising to see cotton knitwear at informal functions or even in offices. Indian exports for knitwear are already quite phenomenal since India is able to provide reasonably priced fashion knits for the world markets.

“Knitwear forms a very important facet of the Indian readymade garment industry. This can be gauged by the fact that it accounts for nearly 35 per cent of the total garment exports from India,” says Ashok Rajani, Managing Director of Midas Touch Exports who have manufacturing units in Bombay and Tirupur where most of the knitwear in India is produced.

In the early days of the knitwear evolution, Ludhiana and Calcutta were the prime production centres. But today Tirpur which was at one time a small shanty township in south India has developed into a major production centre and accounts for nearly Rs. 850 crores of knitwear exports. This amounts to nearly 40 per cent of India’s total knitwear outflow.

“Tirupur has developed into a legend because of historical reasons and an abundant availability to high quality cotton and skilled labour force. India has a competitive edge in the manufacturing of readymade garments including knitwear,” explains Rajani.

The main items of export in knitwear are elegant men’s T-shirts, fancy ladies T-shirts with exquisite embroidery and sequined work, night shirts for ladies and men’s pyjamas sets and sportswear and jogging suit and boxer sets.

From the original sinkerbody and interlock fabrics for knitwear which had a problem of shrinkage and shape, the knitwear fabrics have moved onto double sinker and interlock and a new ‘liquid’ jersey which is a blend of rayon and cotton specially developed by Midas Touch.

Techniques of designing, printing, embroidery and dyeing of the fabric have become well developed. Most of the countries where knitwear products are exported from India cover a wide market area right from the mail order and fashion houses in Europe to the trend setting boutiques in USA and Canada. Japan, Australia and the Middle East are also important markets for knitwear merchandise which have come of age.

With India doing well on the export front for knitwear, it is only natural that the next step was to introduce the knitted garments in the Indian market and this was done by several established exporters who had the expertise and background in the business. Since knitwear exports are limited and seasonal, most exporters entered the local market to ensure continuity in production as garments in knits were more suited to a tropical climate with a year round demand. Where knitwear scores in the export and local markets is in children’s wear section. Cotton knitwear is the ideal fabric for children’s wear worldwide because of its comfort and easy styling. Right from newborns to teenagers both in India and for export, Indian knitwear scores high on the buyer’s lists.

In the Indian market the styles favoured are comparable to those available in the West. T-shirts, skirts, dresses, leotards, bermudas, shorts and even jackets are the best seller. While double sinker body is popular for the export market its interlock that is favoured by the local market. The most popular embellishments range from funky prints to slogans, patches, appliqués, lace, sequins to wooden beads, shells, hand painting and zardozi. The permutations and combinations are mind-blowing. As far as silhouettes are concerned it varies from from-fitted tube tops to the baggy sweat shirt and jogging pants. With the body conscious look very much in vogue all over the world, knitwear becomes the ideal form of clothing that can achieve the body conscious look that is so much aspired for by designers and the fashion elite. The Knitfabric has the unique capacity of stretching to fit snugly over the body and yet should the style demand it, can flow freely. Dresses, skirts minis, midis, maxis, coats make an appearance. Colourwise the selection is wild and vibrant. There is a lot of black and ‘brights’ like red, fuchsia, navy, turquise, emerald and purple. But there is an equal amount of pastels as well.

In the local market the credit of uplifting the T-shirt- a humble knitwear garment-goes to ‘Smash’ T-shirts by Apeego Corporation in 1981 and soon the doors of the domestic business were flung open paving the way for new entrants nearly every year. After the initial onslaught of brands in the local market it was the professional who survived. Yet every year new labels do make an entrance with fancy brand names.

Rajani’s company, besides exporting knitwear, also markets the local range of Zee Club, Zee Kid and Miss Zee line of knitwear garment sin India. “In he local market the styling is far more exciting and intricate and one has to be always ahead of competition,” confirms Rajani.

There are no specific figures available regarding the sales of T-shirts in the local market unlike export. But on a rough assessment the market is worth around Rs. 250 crores annually and growing. There are several branded garments in knitwear in India and as many unbranded ones and the competition is very keen.

Knitwear ranges for the local and export market are presented twice, a year. While for the local market they are geared mainly for the summer and festive seasons, for exports they are only aimed for the summer season in the West. Each manufacturer presents nearly 100 styles per season. Very often in the local markets, blends and acrylic knits are very much in demand though for export it is only the cotton knit that is favoured. While India has to compete with Hong Kong. Taiwan and Bangkok in the export of cotton knits, it had managed to carve a special niche for itself because of its innovations in styling and quality control. In the local market it is the styling that makes all the difference while in the export market it is the ultimate quality of the fabric and the finish of the garment that is important.

The manufacturer of a T-shirt or a knit garment is very easy since it requires little skill. Fabrics are easily available in the market and can be styled and stitched without much effort. “In India the competition is keen not only between well known and little known domestic brands but also from export surplus which is available at throwaway prices. Knitwear today has become an accepted from of wear because of the new emphasis on leisure and casualness. With the increase in jeans and denims the T-shirt or a knit garment is the perfect accompaniment” concludes Rajani.