The State of Circular Innovations in the Indian Fashion and Textile Industries
The following innovation areas allow for further process optimisation and elimination of any kind of waste in this supply chain step. Cut, make and trim (CMT) is the process of turning fabric into apparel by cutting the garment from a pattern, sewing it together and finally adding the needed embellishments. The wastage from the cutting itself is normally found in the range of 6 -25 % of the fabric26. The cutting waste can be reduced through minimal seam construction and designing for zero-waste. By optimising the processes and eliminating any kind of waste, the environmental footprint can be reduced.
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE REGION
- CMT is a core step of the value chain in India; a global production hub that employs nearly 40 million people. Innovations in this space can be perceived as a threat to employment.
- Innovative technologies for zero-waste manufacturing and additive manufacturing exist but are yet to find mass adoption.
- Business model innovations around mass customisation have been a focus of the innovators and the sector as a whole.
This is the process of creating three-dimensional objects, with greater complexity than conventional techniques. Some examples of these processes are flocking and spraying, 3D printing and 3D knitting. Additive manufacturing provides a better business use case by reducing the risk of long lead times and excess stock. With product customisation, customer returns decline which in turn, has a positive impact on the global environmental footprint.
Additive manufacturing is slowly making its way into India’s fashion landscape, primarily through jewellery. Largely prevalent in the metal and machinery industry in India, additive manufacturing in the apparel industry has long existed in more low-tech, manual forms of hand and machine knitted and crocheted products.
Unspun – An on-demand fashion technology company has developed 3D fit algorithms and a 3D weaving machine for intentional and localised manufacturing. With a three-second body scan, unspun creates fully customised garments, perfectly matching supply and demand; by using only the fabric that is needed, no waste is produced. Already at scale, unspun’s technology has up to a 24% lower carbon footprint compared with conventional practices. Their production technique eliminates scrap waste and the need for inventory. unspun recently operated multiple denim pilot projects with denim brands, including a publicly announced collaboration with Weekday, under the H&M Group.
These solutions aim to eliminate, reprocess or re-use pre-consumer waste. A key area of innovation in zero-waste manufacturing is garment construction, which refers to a method that eliminates or reduces pre-consumer waste. Zero-waste pattern design is a solution using 100% of the textile, aiming for no waste. Another innovation area is waste mapping which identifies the streams of textiles in the factory and finds alternative uses for this textile waste, minimising the number of textiles that would normally end up in landfills and incineration.
Zero-Waste Manufacturing innovations are at an early stage in India, with a few, select innovators providing solutions that are being used at scale. Typically associated with innovative cutting methods, innovators in this sector are refining processes and technologies enabling the reduction of wastage in garment manufacturing.
One of the most well-established companies in the space of zero-waste manufacturing is Coats Digital (formerly known as Threadsolre and rebranded after being acquired by the Coats Group). One of their products, IntelloCut, provides Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven cut-plans and lay-plans along with periodical reports on cutting performance to reduce fabric wastage and improve profit margins as a result. Coats Digital combines deep industry expertise with the practical application of the latest technology, including Big Data and AI, delivering market-leading software solutions.
A hybrid of mass production and customisation — the mass production of individually customised goods and services27. It enables personalised, tailored and made-to-measure services for mass production. By analysing collected data of consumer preferences, behaviour and demand, brands and retailers can adjust their productions to better fit the tastes and wants of the consumer. Offering more personalised orders leads to a reduction in dead stock and overproduction. Some examples of these areas of innovation are fit technology, digital design and e-commerce solutions.
Mass customisation is one of the most profitable and mature CMT innovation areas in India. Tailoring custom-made clothes has culturally been the norm in India, replaced in the 90s by ready-to-wear fashion brands. Drawing on the best of both worlds, mass customisation enterprises like Sizenfit, TryNDbuy and Creyate, offer customers the opportunity to customise their clothing in a ready-to-wear, e-commerce environment. Leveraging technologies of sizing, augmented reality, and virtual trials, these retail platforms have templated customisations while reducing over-stocking. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that customised clothing increases the customer’s attachment to the garment, thereby ensuring it is worn longer than an impulse purchase28.
eShakti is a VC-funded mass customisation retailer of clothing originating from Chennai, India, and catering primarily to the American market. eShakti’s custom capabilities allow women to tailor any item to their specific tastes such as changing neckline, sleeve or hem, or tweaking the measurements to ensure a flattering fit. Their patented methodology helps them overcome barriers of sizing and fit concerns as clothes are virtually designed and draped. They maintain inventory of fabric only and have grown 60% over the previous year.
Automation solutions play an important role with regard to financial viability for on demand, near and onshore production29, as they reduce the dependency of manual actions within CMT. Examples can be found within picking, handling, conversion and packaging. In India, automation initiatives are largely perceived as a threat to the nearly 40 million people employed by the textile and apparel sector. Particularly in spinning, machines like auto-coners and auto-splicers have reduced human intervention from 20 workers to just two30. According to a World Bank report, nearly 70% of the jobs in India are at an elevated risk of being replaced by automation31. To adopt automation technologies, upskilling of workers is essential to mitigate unemployment. While automation is an interesting area for manufacturers, there is a lack of innovations in this space in the region.
Smartex Corp. is a company operating in Europe, USA and China, providing a unique patented system to improve production processes in the Textile Industry. Smartex Corp. integrates advanced Industry 4.0 elements, connects manufacturing processes with Internet of things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence and enables traceability and sustainability approaches to the textile production lines. Currently, 3-5% of knitted fabrics have faults and need to be discarded. Smartex Corp. installs cameras in circular knitting machines to detect defects in the fabric production. When detected, knitting machines are turned off at the point of fault before continuing to produce an entire fabric roll. The result is a reduction in textile faults to 0.1%.
OPTIMISED YARN AND FABRIC CONSTRUCTION
These are innovations that increase the overall functional performance of yarns and fabrics. In India, this tends to be a space of incremental and iterative innovation — there are not as many outright new innovative esolutions, only ongoing improvements on existing machinery and processes used in the industry. Virtual prototyping technologies have also achieved efficiencies from design to product rollout. Some pockets of the regional industry, such as the woollen spinning industry centered in Ludhiana, North India, has long had a closed-loop system where most of the wasted fibres during yarn spinning are collected and re-spun into a “second quality” or slightly inferior quality of yarn with a shorter staple length that has its own market.
Microspin is a Chennai-based yarn spinning enterprise that holds patents for revolutionary spinning machines that make small lots of yarn on IoT-enabled machinery. Operated via proprietary, energy-efficient algorithms, makes them five times more energy efficient than conventional methods. The resultant crafted yarn that is natural and holds dyes better than conventionally spun yarn and therefore requires half the water in their process. It’s easy to produce small lots of blended yarns be it mélange, cotton, silk and any other natural or synthetic fibre.
- There is an opportunity to identify and scale niche innovations in zero-waste manufacturing, optimised yarn and fabric production.
- To grow innovations in CMT, there is a need to upskill garment workers to ensure they are not adversely affected by the growing automation of the apparel industry.
- Additive manufacturing and 3D printing are a huge opportunity in India especially in footwear and garments, an infusion of funding and large scale adoption can help bring economies of scale in these processes.
- Enabling Innovations in cutting and pattern making tools and equipment can reduce wastage at this stage drastically.
We see great momentum for sustainable materials and production technologies over the last five years. We have adopted many such technologies in our manufacturing facilities and are committed to creating a circular production system."Abhishek Bansal, Head of Sustainability at Arvind Limited