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B.Text, M.Tech, F.I.E., C.Eng (I), M.I.M.A (Text of my address to Hosiery entrepreneurs at ‘SME CEO Knowledge Series’ organised by ICICI Bank and DHL in association with DARE at Park Plaza, Ludhiana on 4th February)
Dignitaries, Entrepreneurs and Friends, On the onset I thank ICICI Bank and DHL who invited in the ‘SME CEO Knowledge Series’ to share my views on the ‘Prospects of Hosiery Knitwear Industry of Ludhiana’. Coming to Ludhiana and to talk about Hosiery Knitwear Industry has always been my pleasure and privilege. Sitting before me are honourable entrepreneurs, who by dint of their entrepreneurial skills coupled with unbreakable resolve and ‘never say die spirit’ have kept the flag of this industry high under all circumstances. Amongst them to talk about the subject of the day, in which they are associated for long, is almost showing the light of the tiny lamp to the sun. Nevertheless, since I have been called upon to share my humble views, I have to perform my duty.
Industry in retrospect
Hosiery Industry of Ludhiana is a century old establishment and is an important segment of economic activities of the State of Punjab. Its existence in Ludhiana can be traced to the beginning of the last millennium. The people who started this industry in Ludhiana were mostly first generation entrepreneurs, most of them migrated here after the partition of India. They started this business not as an industrial activity but as means of their livelihood. They set up tiny factories at the backyards of their own houses. They towed the materials on their cycles or scooters for getting various jobs done, but they never felt small and their heads were always high. Even though they were not technically qualified yet were fully competent to run their businesses.
Because of their hard work and vision this industry is now vibrant and has made its mark not only within the country but internationally also. Those pioneers have made their entrepreneurial skills a subject of study by many researchers and scholars of business schools. Today, we salute those committed persons of vision and wisdom of hosiery Industry of Ludhiana. Over the years, the industry expanded exponentially and has seen many vicissitudes. The businesses grew from less than Rs.100 Crore in the seventies to estimated Rs.10,000 Crore at present. There were many phases when this industry saw very hard times and many pundits predicted doom for the industry, but they were proved wrong. Termination of Russian business after the disintegration of USSR was one such phase. The very existence of many small factories connected with Russian units, jobs and livelihood of many workmen was in jeopardy. With the tenacity and flexibility of the entrepreneur to adopt new situations, developing new products, venturing into new forays and exploring new markets, this phase was overcome successfully. The operations of IWS for licensing Woolmark and providing the technical assistance for developing new product lines enabled them to remain in the domestic business profitably, simultaneously, providing a kick-start to their businesses in the European markets.
Phase of up gradation
Then there was onslaught of emergence of newer fibres in categories such as lamb’s wool, angora, cashmere and blends of mohair, it required perfection in spinning, dyeing and processing techniques to make reasonably quality garments. The emergence of fancy yarns made of synthetic fibres with large varieties in polyester, viscose and even in acrylic posed new manufacturing and processing challenges. The ghost of computerised machines displayed and demonstrated by Knitwear Facility, a UNDP aided project loomed large on the industrial units. The industry for long has been using Hand Flat machines costing about Rs.10, 000 per machine. The price of Rs.25 lakh of computerised machine frightened them with the compulsion of future investments. And the advantage of using these machines was kept as a closely guarded secret by those entrepreneurs who could afford to install these machines at their backyards. So was the case with multi-head computerised embroidery machines. This phase was also overcome with initial hiccups, thanks to some exposures given and impetus provided by the support agencies like Knitwear facility, UNIDO, and IWS and lately Project Uptech of State Bank of India. Some visionary entrepreneurs’ added summer wears in their production lines to engage their units all through the year or started standalone units to manufacture knitwear for summers or for exports. These factories added state-of-the-art imported Circular Knitting machines and set up garment stitching units with imported machines. Many smaller units operating in the old streets of Ludhiana in their houses came out and established spacious units at the outskirts of Ludhiana with well laid out factories and started exports in addition to supplies to domestic markets.
A closed door and secretive industry became open and transparent in their operations. Technologies used and product ranges were now displayed in the buyer-sellers meets organised by some segment of industry through the channel of their newly formed associations. Thanks to the vision and lead given by Knitwear club for the same.
Now, new challenges lie ahead. How to professionalise the operations of the factories to meet various requirements of the buyers, especially foreign buyers, in meeting their compliances and quality standards? The challenges are how to become competitive in the International markets to meet the tough competition coming from China and other South Asian Countries. The challenges are how to compete with the foreign suppliers entering in the Indian markets and match up to their branded products with quality and price tags in their organised promotional and marketing environment. The challenge is how to create discernible brands of their products. The challenge is how to think big and realise the immense potential within, which the hosiery cluster of Ludhiana possess. Now many units of Ludhiana have been passed on to next generation who are qualified, forward looking, exposed to technology and are backed with the tremendous experience flowing from their family elders. I am sure, being a close watcher of the development of this industry in Ludhiana, can say with conviction that if first decade of this millennium saw hosiery industry unimaginable leapfrogging both in the use of technology and development of product ranges, this decade will see many of the entrepreneurs sitting here grow bigger. Many ask, would there ever emerge more of Oswals, Munjals or Mittals in this city of entrepreneurs. The answer is yes, wait and see. Thank You