The buzz of hundreds of sewing machines is paused for hours together. In between, power generators enjoy a few hours of life. Close to Deepavali, the order books have not been filled and mobile phones do not ring continuously. The readymade garment units stacked along the Dindigul Road at Puthanatham village near Manaparai have a long lunch break and longer tea breaks.

The return of unannounced power shutdown in the last few days has hit the tiny and cottage units, which are yet to recover from the shock of last year’s 16-hour power shutdown.

The power shutdown is experienced in two spells of three hours each during day and a nocturnal spell of an hour.

These units produce a variety of garments for both men and women for supply throughout the State and Kerala.

“The Ramzan season has been very bad for us. The return of long hours of power cut does not augur well for Deepavali,” says T.A.K. Hidayathullah, who has been in the business for 27 years. When profit margins have tumbled on the impact of economic crisis, the slowdown caused by power shutdown has aggravated the woes of this “garment village”.

The garment industry benefits people of villages in a radius of 20 km from Puthanatham.

Double hit

The industry has been doubly hit at a crucial time. A shrinking market share for Puthanatham garments, caused by competition from products made in China, Mumbai and Kolkata, and a fall in production. In an effort to keep their business afloat, manufacturers such as K.S. Abdul Razak (who started the first readymade garment unit in the village) buy diesel daily for Rs. 2,000 to run generators. “The gensets do not help in the operation of all machines. We are forced to pay wages for workers even if they do not have any work. The subsidy provided for garment units is inadequate,” says Mr. Razak. “Failure of rains and power shortage have hit our units badly,” says M.S. Jamal Mohamed, a leading manufacturer of nighties.

The spirit of entrepreneurship is unique to Puthanatham. The earlier generation was selling items of daily use. The present generation took a bold decision of competing with bigger players by manufacturing fancy dresses. Today, the Puthanatham garments are found in the shelves of every leading textile shop across the State.

Quality matters

“If you maintain quality, you need not worry about external factors having an influence on your business,” says a contended A. Arif Raja, who manufactures men’s shirts.

For various reasons, a majority of residents of Puthanatham cannot go back to agriculture to earn a livelihood as they have given up farming three decades ago.

No return

It was a quirk of fate that forced them to take to garment business.

A communal clash of 1984 resulted in a local leader delivering a diktat that people of his community should not go for employment in the farms owned by the minority community.

Left with no option, members of the minority community gave up agriculture and concentrated on improving the garment business.

Today, they provide employment for people from all communities.

Men and women of scores of villages around Puthanatham benefit from the garment industry by taking up job work.