He sees a brighter future for the self-made town

TIRUPUR: Though a water-starved town in western Tamil Nadu, Tirupur has emerged as the knitwear capital of the country in three decades.

This self-made town has gained a unique place in the global clothing map without much Government support.

Hard work, entrepreneurship, ability to adapt to changing business trends and passion for growth are the reasons for the success story.

Exports from Tirupur, which provides employment to over three lakh people has crossed the Rs.11,000 crore mark last year.

A. Sakthivel, president of the Tirupur Exporters' Association (TEA), has been the face of the knitwear business for long.

He has been at the helm of the association for nearly two decades taking active part in the trade's welfare at every stage.

The International Trade Centre had invited him to talk about the success of Tirupur cluster.

His dream; an ambitious Rs.50,000 crore export achievement by 2015.

The former chairman of Apparel Exports Promotion Council shares his views on the past and what the future holds for Tirupur with M. Gunasekaran.

Tirupur's direct exports started with Italy.

Verona, a garment importer from Italy came to Tirupur in 1978 through Mumbai exporters to buy white T-shirts.

A lot of job workers were manufacturing garments for merchant exporters.

Potential

He realised the potential and came to Tirupur the following year.

Verona was the man who brought European business to Tirupur.

On seeing the quality, others soon followed suit.

In 1981 European retail chain C&A came.

Gradually, other stores approached the exporters.

A handful of manufacturers exported garments worth Rs.15 crore in 1985.

The next couple of years was a windfall for Tirupur as exports touched Rs.300 crore in 1990.

"We formed TEA at that time to work towards larger goals.

"We set targets for ourselves.

"Till today we have been able to achieve all our targets,'' Mr. Sakthivel says.

Conceptualised

Netaji Apparel Park, Tirupur Export Knitwear Industrial Complex, India Knit Fair Association, NIFT-TEA Fashion Institute, TEA Public School and Inland Container Depot were conceptualised by TEA.

Besides, it was also instrumental in the execution of Rs.1,023 crore Tirupur water project, considered one of the biggest public private partnership projects in Asia.

Lauding the workforce's unstinted support and hard work, Mr. Sakthivel says that workers' cooperation and exporters' entrepreneurship took the town to great heights.

"You name it--any brand whether Nike, Adidas or chain stores like C&A, Wal-Mart or H&M, they do business with Tirupur.

"That all major brands and chain stores have offices in Tirupur is itself a proof of Tirupur's reputation,'' he adds.

Now, the second generation with professional degrees have stepped into the business.

Talking about the town's USP he says, "Tirupur is unique in many spheres.

"With just one room you can even manufacture 5,000 dozens of garments a day.

"Plenty of job working units are available.

"You don't have to invest your own money to produce T-shirts.

"There are enough firms where you can outsource your work."

On growth, he says that capacity expansion is a never-ending story.

"We thought a 4,000 sq ft factory to be big in 1991.

"But now people are talking about a factory spread over 10 acres with 4,00,000 sq ft built up area.

"Technology upgradation, modernisation and expansion have become the norm.

"Big factories are hesitant to take small orders."

On the emerging opportunities, he says that in the quota-free era buyers have a chance to buy anywhere in the world.

"Customers look at value for money products.

"This is applicable to exporters as well.

"Now, buyers want to buy the best product at the best price.

"So, our margins have gone down drastically.

"The focus has now shifted to cost control and enhanced productivity."

Quality

"Now, quality is in the system.

"Right from the cutting master to the packing man everyone understands it.

"If you are not ensuring quality you cannot stay for long."

Ask him about the experience so far and what needs to be done and he says, "The State Bank of India and other bankers played a vital role.

"But the Government's role was limited.

"The Government has a lot to do on the infrastructure front.

"It should execute a massive housing scheme for workers and train unemployed youth across the state to cater to the growing demands of Tirupur.

"Shortage of manpower persists mainly because of lack of housing."

"Self confidence is the prerequisite for an exporter," he stresses.

"It is the only business in which one can get revenues with less investment in very short time.

"The exporter should not lose hope at any point of time in the risky business," he adds further.

His advice for budding exporters: "Don't be greedy.

"Know your production capacity while booking orders and be careful in pricing.

"Don't divert funds for at least five years.

"Invest all the profit in the business.

"If you win your buyers' confidence you can grow by leaps and bounds."

Looking ahead

Mr. Sakthivel sees an even brighter future for Tirupur.

Reason: good raw material strength, entrepreneurship, timely delivery with quality, design capability, long time relationship with buyers and unquenched thirst for growth.

When asked about the question of infrastructure that is needed in the hosiery town, Mr. Sakthivel says that he would like the highway from Tirupur to Tuticorin to be made a four-lane one, so that it will be easier for those who want to travel between these two places.

In addition to this, Coimbatore airport should be upgraded suitably so that it is in a position to operate international flights to various destinations that would enable buyers to travel easily, whenever they chose to do so, in a comfortable manner.

Mr. Sakthivel also emphasizes that Government authorities should establish better healthcare facilities for the workforce that lives in the town.

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