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Knitting for the globe
Tirupur has evolved in quick time from a small time local player to a global major on sheer enterprise.

Tirupur has undergone a massive transformation in a short time: the change is mind-boggling. Export of domestic garments from the region is now worth annually  Rs 22,000 crore; another Rs 5000 crore sold in the domestic market. The range of knitwear has expanded into variety of leggings and other casuals. Over 6250 units, a fourth of these in knitting and around 700 engaged in dyeing and bleaching, dot this town that never sleeps.

There is over-full employment: 4 lakh direct workers and another 3 lakh engaged indirectly. The town graduated into a corporation in double quick time, thanks to the large increase in population: a sizeable portion of which are migrant labourers, both men and women, drawn from the north and the east. Factories have caught up with state-of- the-art machinery as also with both production and management practices.

 

Expansion, upgradation and integration

The Tirupur Exporters’ Association (TEA) completed 25 years recently. President A Sakthivel pointed to TEA goading entrepreneurs to strive constantly for expansion, upgradation and backward as well as forward integration to cut down costs and to record high growth on a continuous basis.

When the textile industry in Coimbatore and southern districts faced labour unrest, Tirupur adroitly grasped the opportunity. The town, earlier restricted to manufacturing vests, briefs and other inner garments, looked at the prospects for growth. Sakthivel pointed to the Italian buyer Verona bringing along a dyeing master and helping the town graduate to colourful fabric processing and producing fashion garments.  

Local entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to transform a once obscure town to a throbbing knitwear cluster meeting global demands.  The first generation of entrepreneurs took bold to visit several western countries and successfully negotiated handsome deals. From a modest export of Rs 10 crore in 1984, it increased to Rs 290 crore in 1990 when TEA was established. By the end of the decade, it crossed Rs 3000 crore. The growth in the first decade of the current millennium has indeed been frenetic rising to Rs 11,500 crore for 2009-10.

 

The town faced a severe crisis when pollution control norms were tightened. Sakthivel recalled with gratitude the electrifying action of chief minister Jayalalithaa: “within 3 days of taking oath in 2011, she discussed with us the serious crisis faced by Tirupur. A large number of dyeing units died. Jayalalithaa promised to help us install effluent treatment plants that would ensure zero liquid discharge. She sanctioned a loan of Rs 200 crore interest free.”  This saved not just the units, but also the town that was suffering severe pollution.

Today Tirupur boasts of a large number of dyeing units that have invested handsome amounts on treating effluents; with reverse osmosis the water is so clean! Sekaran of KPM Processing Mills pointed to the new systems enabling recovery of costly chemicals and dyes as also helps recycle of precious water over 90 per cent.

The succeeding generation, with specialised qualifications in textile and fashion technology as well as global exposure, has helped diversify the production range of Tirupur units. The malls and large showrooms in this throbbing town display a vast range of branded wear as one sees in prosperous western cities.

 

From municipality to corporation ...

The prosperity of the town is reflected in the area gaining importance. Tirupur has been carved into a separate district; the town municipality is now a corporation. Road, rail and communication facilities have vastly improved. Rs 1050 crore water supply scheme ensures copious supply of water to the industrial units, to the town and to villages around. The Tirupur Knitwear Industrial complex, NIFT-TEA Knitwear Fashion Institution, Netaji Apparel Park, and public schools have taken shape in quick time.

The ambition level of the entrepreneurs goads them to set and achieve ever-high targets. Hear the young educated K S Padmanabhan, Managing Director of MSK Group: “there is potential for exports of Rs 100,000 crore.”

 

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