One of India’s positions has already been defined in traditional textiles and natural fibers globally. According to Invest India, Indian's National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency, India is the second largest producer of polyester in the world and is now emerging as a key player in technical textiles industry.



The current Indian technical textiles market is estimated at US$19 billion and rapidly growing at a CAGR of 12% since past five years. It accounts for approximately 13% of India’s total textile and apparel market.


Impressive functionality of technical textiles drives market growth


Availability of raw materials such as cotton, wood, jute and silk along with a strong value chain, low cost labor, power and changing consumer trends are some of the contributing factors to India’s growth in this sector.

India has large availability of raw materials such as cotton.

Technical textiles are engineered products with a definite functionality. They are manufactured using natural as well as man-made fibers such as Nomex, Kevlar, Spandex, Twaron that exhibit enhanced functional properties such as higher tenacity, good insulation, improved thermal resistance etc.


These products find end-use application across multiple non-conventional textile industries such as healthcare, construction, automobile, aerospace, sports, defense, and agriculture. Taking cognizance of technological advancements, countries are aligning their industries to accommodate technical textiles. This shift is evident in India's textile sector as well, moving from traditional textiles to technical textiles.

Speciality fibers heavily dependent on import


Particularly, the invention of speciality fibers and their incorporation in almost all areas suggest that the importance of technical textiles is only going to increase in the future.

Unlike the conventional textile industry in India, which is highly export intensive, the technical textile industry is still import dependent. Products such as diapers, polypropylene spun-bond fabric for disposables, wipes, protective clothing, hoses, webbings for seat belts etc. form a substantial part of the country’s imports.

Moreover, while regular fibers like natural fibers and synthetic fibers account for 70% of the total fiber used in technical textiles, speciality fibers constitute the remaining 30%. Their characteristics like light weight, durability and thermal stability have led to an increase in the overall demand for such composite materials.

Invest India stated that, India relies heavily on importing speciality fibers owing to an increasing demand, but lack of requisite technology, absence of a robust research and development (R&D) ecosystem has, however, been an impediment.

Also, fiscal anomalies such as imposition of excise duties on raw material and no exemption on the finished product have escalated the overall costs and discouraged domestic production.

The UAE is the leading exporter of specialty fibers to India of which 99.38% is constituted by Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight- Polyethylene (UHMWP). Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Iran are other countries that export UHMWP to India.


China has maintained top spots across the majority of 12 specialty fibers with an overall increase in value from 2017-18. South Korea has a varied presence across the speciality fibers with an increase in exports in Aramids, High-Tenacity Polypropylene, High-Tenacity Polyester, Carbon Fibers, Ceramic Fibers, UHMWP and Nylon - 6,6.

Korea is a leader in Nylon - 6,6 exports, which comprises of 69.92% of the total Korean speciality fiber exports to India. Similarly, 99.52% of Russian speciality fiber exports to India comprise of Nylon - 6,6.

Taiwan region exports multiple speciality fibers to India, with major exports in Nylon-6,6, High Tenacity Polypropylene and High Tenacity Polyester and also has a varied presence in Glass Fiber, High Tenacity Nylon Fiber and High Tenacity Viscose.

Thailand too exports multiple speciality fibers to India like Aramids, High Tenacity Nylon, High Tenacity Polypropylene, High Tenacity Polyester, UHMWP and Nylon-6,6.

Government initiatives to boost technical textile market

For facilitating the technical textile market, the Indian government has been launching a set of initiatives and here is to name a few examples.

In 2019, the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India dedicated 207 Harmonized System of Nomenclature (HSN) codes to technical textiles to help in monitoring the data of import and export, in providing financial support and other incentives to manufacturers. The purpose of this classification is to increase international trade, and enable the market size to grow up to US$ 26 billion by the year 2020-21.
The Indian government has launched initiatives to boost its technical textile market growth.
Also, government of India allows 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) under automatic route. International technical textile manufacturers such as Ahlstrom, Johnson & Johnson, Du Pont Procter & Gamble, 3M, SKAPS, Kimberly Clark, Terram, Maccaferri, Strata Geosystems have already initiated operations in India.

Besides, the Ministry of Textiles has been organizing the flagship event Technotex India, in collaboration with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), comprising exhibitions, conferences and seminars with participation of stakeholders from across the global technical textile value chain.

With a view to position the country as a global leader in technical textiles, a National Technical Textiles Mission has been set up with a total outlay of US$ 194 million in February 2020.

The Mission shall be set up for a four year implementation period from FY 2020-24 and will have the following four components:

  • Component - I (Research, Innovation and Development)
  • Component - II (Promotion and Market Development)
  • Component - III (Export Promotion)
  • Component - IV (Education, Training, Skill Development)

Expand technical textile application with US$1.4 trn Infrastructure Fund

In terms of expanding applications for technical textiles, opportunities can be found in the US$ 1.4 trillion national infrastructure pipeline unveiled by the Finance Minister in December 2019. The projects will be implemented in the next five years including sectors of energy, road, railway, urban development, irrigation and health, where technical textiles can be used extensively.

Apart from the Ministry of Textiles, other Indian Ministries have made institutionalization plans of technical textiles.

Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare

The regulatory and promotional mechanism and incentives have already improved the consumption of agro-based technical textile products such as shade net (material only), micro irrigation pipe, insect net (material only), vermi bed, water carrying pipe etc. The items already have a Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) in place and instructions/ notifications have been issued for the mandatory use by the Ministry.

However, items such as spunbond nonwoven crop cover (17 gsm/20 gsm/25 gsm/30 gsm) with support structure, spunbond nonwoven row cover (17 gsm/20 gsm/25 gsm/30 gsm) material only, spunbond nonwoven fruit bag/bunch cover (17 gsm/20 gsm/25 gsm/30 gsm) with support structure, woven ground cover fabric (100 gsm), jute/coir mulch mat (500 gsm/800 gsm) already have a BIS standard in place but instructions/notifications have not yet been issued for the mandatory use by concerned Ministry.

Water Resources

Items such as geotubes, geocell, geonet, geogrid used in slopes and embankments, woven & nonwoven geotextile used for filtration, drainage and protection against stone protrusion are important products that are authorized for mandatory usage by Ministry of Water Resources.

Railways

The Ministry of Railways is a major consumer of fire-retardant fabrics, used for seats and berth covers and geotextiles. The ministry has already conducted pilot tests for usage of technical textiles under its various sub-divisions.

Items such as geogrids and geo-composites have already been recommended by Indian Technical Textiles Association (ITTA) to the Ministry of Railways.

Road Transport & Highways

Ministry of Road Transport & Highways is one of the largest institutional players and largest consumer of geotextiles in India. The use of synthetic and natural geotextiles for increasing the longer life-span of the roads is already underway for construction of major roads – highways and expressways. Use of coir geotextiles which is cheaper and bio-degradable is being proposed for district level and village level roads.
Geotextiles in railway application.
Items such as geotextiles non-woven, geotextiles woven, open weave JGT / coir bhoovastra, geo-composites, geogrids are items for which BIS standards are available but instructions/notifications have not been issued for the mandatory use by the concerned ministry.

Home Affairs

Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for purchases for police and paramilitary which together is a major institutional buyer of protective textiles. Apart from the bullet proof jackets, it is necessary that the Ministry also brings flame retardant curtains, tents, upholstery, fire fighter suits and gloves, protective work wear under the ambit of mandatory usage.

Ways to improve Indian technical textiles ecosystem

In order to capitalize the US$ 1.4 trillion infrastructure fund and reduce import dependence, a complete ecosystem for technical textiles is imperative to launch in India.

Take building up the Mega Textiles Park as an example, Ministry of Textiles is already under the process to create an ecosystem model that would allow creation of new mega textile parks exclusively for technical textiles and upgrade of existing 19 functional textile parks supported by the government.

Characteristics of such a textile park could entail a comprehensive ‘technology-driven’ ecosystem with R&D, start-up incubation, forward linkages with logistics parks and market access systems and backward linkages with creation of textile standards under BIS.

Creation of job quality certification systems through NSDA, harmonization with international testing norms for, plug and play infrastructure for product realization and machinery production are some of the additional features of the textile park.

What’s more, to catalyze the R&D and test basic and applied research, 8 Centers of Excellence (CoE) and 11 Focus Incubation Centers (FIC) have been set up by the Indian government in the past years, each having different areas of expertise.

The government has also suggested creating a special fund for R&D worth US$13 million in technical textiles. Along with these, more efforts will have to be made in the direction of fostering a well-developed R&D ecosystem.

To conclude, the technical textiles industry is at a nascent stage in India and holds a vast potential for growth. With the Indian government’s aim to create world class infrastructure in the country, in addition to the implementation of several policies and schemes to boost the textile sector, technical textiles is poised for growth.