The Future of Sustainable Apparel Manufacturing in India


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


July 11, 2023


Emily Lane 00:07

There'sa ton of things happening that are really supporting all pillars ofsustainability in India, people, planet, profit, you know, really looking atthings that start from farm and our fiber forward all the way through to theend product.


Bret Schnitker 00:24

Yeah, Imean, again, from small, medium and large, that was a topic of conversation,and there was investments and process in place to improve it.


Emily Lane 00:34

Welcometo Clothing Coulture of fashion industry podcast at the intersection oftechnology and innovation. I'm Emily Lane.


Bret Schnitker 00:43

I'm BretSchnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industryforward, and discuss solutions to real industry challenges.


Emily Lane 00:51

ClothingCoulture is produced by Stars Design Group, a global design and productionhouse with more than 30 years of experience.


Emily Lane 01:01

Welcomeback to another episode of Clothing Coulture. We are having another tabletopconversation today. This is where we address questions from our audience, andalso have topical conversations. Today we are here to talk about India. Bretand I just spent about a month traveling the country visiting our two officesin Bangalore and Tiruppur. And we were so excited about all the developmentsthat we've seen in this country, all of which, well, not all but a fair amount.Let's just say we're going to share with you in today's conversation. I'd liketo start with a little context. However, Bret, you've been traveling in Indiafor over 30 years, you have this long history there. What was it about thiscountry that you saw opportunity in?


Bret Schnitker 01:50

Yeah,that's a great question. Because the country has changed so much over theyears. But in the early days, it really was the people and in our businesspeople makes it make a big difference. And, you know, different cultures have differentstrengths and weaknesses. And I really found the Indian people, especiallyobviously, the ones that we interacted with in our business to be veryentrepreneurial, really focused on overcoming obstacles, achieving positiveresults. And, you know, India in the early days, there were a lot of obstacles.So these people that were in the business just had their hands full, but theythey figured it out. And I was really impressed by that. And they didn't put upa lot of excuses. They didn't put up a lot of roadblocks, you know, with newcreative ideas. It was just, they're just so ingratiate ing and warm. I reallyenjoyed the country initially, because of that.


Emily Lane 02:45

Youtalked about how much has changed over the years. What are some of the thingsthat India today is known for?


Bret Schnitker 02:53

People,again, 1.4 billion. On our trip, they were so proud to say we're number one inpopulation and it was everywhere you saw it, it was evident I mean, 12 lanehighways in one direction fully booked like it was the 405 and SouthernCalifornia.


Emily Lane 03:12

Lanesare just a suggestion.


Bret Schnitker 03:13

They, ofcourse. They're known for a number of different things. They're known forcotton, obviously, in terms of fabrication, that's the chief productioncategory in our business there. Outside of our business, certainly technology,medicine, pharmaceuticals, the list goes on and on mangoes there's the countryis is has a lot of different things that that today puts them on the map, ifyou will, and you know more specifically in our business, large manufacturingunits and the ability to be more vertical in the country. I think today they'vemade a lot of investments in technology when others haven't. Infrastructure todayis more of a real achievable goal than it was when I started years agoinfrastructure really got in the way but flyovers and roads and subways andoverpasses and construction at a pace that that is just unparalleled. Sothere's just there's a lot that India is known for today. I could go on and on.


Emily Lane 04:24

Yeah,yeah, it again, that people side of it. You know one of the things that I wasso impressed by when we were there was seeing all of the energy put behindmaking sure that workers are being treated very well. Education programs forwomen and support for when they're not feeling well and on site rest beds andall kinds of things which I thought was just so innovative. You know, intoday's landscape, we are seeing wonderful evolution in investment insynthetics. And then of course, a key area sustainability. Let's start a littlebit.


Bret Schnitker 05:08

Twosides of the spectrum sort of right, right. World's buying a lot of syntheticsand India has to join that that kind of business sector they've been farlagging. But on the other side, you know, it's not a fantastic fiber for foranything eco friendly but as you mentioned. Yeah, so many things in the countrywere unlike any other country that I have seen. The investment in an ecofriendly and sustainability is, I mean, factory to factory small, medium,large. They're all having that conversation.


Emily Lane 05:42

Right.So with regards to synthetics, what are some of the things that that you see onthe horizon in the next five years as a result of some of the conversationsthat we had?


Bret Schnitker 05:54

Yeah, Ithink India, like I mentioned before, is always lagged behind and synthetics.They've always focused on cotton as a main crop, if you will, petroleumproducts really haven't ever found their way to large volumes in the country.And I think Modi understands that as there's this quote, current or temporary,if you will, transient, perhaps flight from China, that there needs to be otheropportunities for people to buy synthetics, you know, we had talked in previousepisodes that today the apparel industry is buying at least 55%. Andsynthetics, that number is expected to go to 75 or 80, maybe even higher basedon some of the challenges and cotton worldwide. So India realizes that they gotto get in that game. India In the past, they've always embraced building andinfrastructure and all these things. But there's never been something tied totiming. So Well, I always joke with our offices there that, you know, the the fiveyear subway that's being built that's now on its 15th year or 10th year, maybeI'm exaggerating a little bit. Uniquely, the investment in infrastructure tomanage a stronger, more robust synthetic pipeline, fiber forward is now tied togovernment incentives and timeline. Yeah. And so they have to achieve thesemassive goals. And if they want their incentive, they gotta hit the timeline.So I think that actually is a very unique shift in, in, in process for, forIndia in this sector.


Emily Lane 07:35

Yeah,absolutely. The hot topic of today, it's been a hot topic for a while. And forso long, we felt defeated by the quest towards sustainability. But upon thisrecent trip, we were just so delighted about our findings, there's a ton ofthings happening, that are really supporting all pillars of sustainability inIndia, people, planet, profit, you know, really looking at things that startfrom farm and our fiber forward all the way through to the end product, I'dlove for you to talk to tell everybody out there a little bit about what wesaw.


Bret Schnitker 08:17

Yeah Imean, again, from small, medium, and large, that was a topic conversation, andthere was investments and process in place to improve it. In other episodesI've talked about that sustainability will probably find traction when it is animperative goal. And when you hit 1.4 billion people, and resource drain is abig conversation in all aspects. You know, energy resource drain is one ofthose key components. And so to stoke the heating, in dying units, they'redepleting forests at an unbelievable rate. So based upon necessity, they'removing to solar power, massive solar power farms and wind farms, more solarthan wind today. But that's replacing the burn rate, if you will, of wood, it'sa necessity, they're going to have no trees in the country if they continue atthe pace. So as that kicks in, solar starts becoming and the solar farms aremassive, huge solar farms. And so we're seeing that take place all the waythrough the country, and it continues down the pipeline. If you're not figuringout ways to reduce the use of power and electricity, you're going to have thatresource strain in cities, for people to live, etc. Especially when India getsvery, very hot, keeping people cool and things like that. So it's trickling,it's finding its way down through industry, but I think because of necessity,they're also understanding the importance of marketing and positioningthemselves in more of a sustainable direction. And so you're seeing things withinthe country. They're recognizing that even within a lot of their current levelsof pay, etc, that a lot of factories are turned, paying living wages and, andFairtrade wages, etc. So they're going down that that extra step to getcertified, it's easier in this country to become Fairtrade certified. That's abig important thing for a lot of Western European and Western nations. So we'refinding Fairtrade. It's not that they're having to reorganize their factoriesin such a massive way. They're just taking advantage that they're already moreof a Fairtrade certified. It requires a little bit more oversight and, andbusiness but we're finding more and more people moving down that path. They'realso looking and monitoring their, the the efficiency of their resourceutilization. And that's in the form of GOTS I think everywhere that we wentfactory to factory. Everyone was talking about their GOT certificated


Emily Lane 10:59



Bret Schnitker 11:00

Got me.No, no, it's, it's, it's, it's a process in which they have outsidecertifications that analyze how efficiently they're managing all of theirresources, and they give a certain level to how sustainable their utilizationsare, and so there's will, in future episodes will probably go into a lot moreinformation.


Emily Lane 11:25

Absolutely.You know, one of the programs that I was really, also very interested in whenwhen we were talking to a very large producer, there was a program that theyhad where they took organic cotton seeds and gave them to farmers to grow,organically showed their cotton. And then on top of providing them the seeds,they paid them a above market value for the cotton they produced, which was ahuge shift and dynamic because there have been other producers out there thatin the past have have taken advantage of cotton growers.


Bret Schnitker 12:09

Thattypically happens, okay, the chain, most farmers and growers get the short endof the stick the the converters, if you will make a sizable profit on cottonwhen they're buying bales, etc. And so there is a shift, it's not a largeshift. But there certainly is a shift to more of a Fairtrade pipeline downthrough the farmers. And then the Better Cotton Initiative, you know, there,there's two sides to every story. I tend to believe that the conversation ismore gray than it is black and white about GMO seeds versus organic. There arecertain genetically modified seeds that are modified to sustain you know,drought conditions and things like that. And I think that helps in certaincases where people can put more food on the table. So I wouldn't say that it'sblack or white for me. But I'm, I'm thankful that through the Better CottonInitiative, there's a lot, there's a lot more organic going on reducing harmfulpesticides in the soil. Again, when you think about 1.4 billion, the thecondensation, if you will of humanity into smaller areas, you want to make sureyou're protecting resource on land. And I think all those things start to makesense for sure.


Emily Lane 13:22

Yeah, Ilove how holistic the processes that we were seeing like there are a lot ofefforts of, you know, reducing that concern of the carbon footprint, as well ashonoring that, you know, the the initiative of reducing environmental impact.And we've seen earlier phases of some of the, you know, water reclamation andso some of those efforts in the past, but it was really nice to see how throughand through, they're being very thoughtful of both sides of this equation.Sure. Well, as you mentioned, we are absolutely going to focus deeper on thisconversation in a future podcast because there are a lot of questions and goalsabout sustainability and access to sustainable production and materials. Sodefinitely be on the lookout for that conversation coming forward. We wanted tomake sure and share some of the exciting things that we saw upon a our recenttrip. And, Bret, do you have any other final thoughts to share?


Bret Schnitker 14:26

I thinkIndia's prime for some tremendous growth. I was really excited. When I was inthe country. I've always had a fascination and love for India over my 30 years.And I'm glad that they're they're really working on coming to the table is asthere is definitely a geographic shift in our production. And India stands togain a lot with what they're doing.


Emily Lane 14:50

Yeah, Iagree. I was so impressed. It was my first rep and I was so impressed by theindustriousness as he as you have expressed in the past and just howhardworking and sincere. All of the the people that we're working with arethere. It was a tremendous opportunity you get to see it firsthand. So thankyou for sharing your insights Bret, and thank you for joining us today. Don'tforget to subscribe stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture.

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The Future of Sustainable Apparel Manufacturing in India