ArticlesHow India is Poised to Become the Global Leader in Textile and Apparel Exports

Indian Economy

How India is Poised to Become the Global Leader in Textile and Apparel Exports

In this article, we wіll explore the market trends and global competitiveness of India’s textile and apparel exports, covering various segments such as cotton textiles, synthetic and blended textiles, ethnic and traditional apparel, fashion and ready-to-wear clothing, technical textiles in apparel, and innovation and technology in textile exports.

By India Index

4 min read

The textile and apparel sector is one of the most important sectors in India’s economy. It contributes to about 15% of the country’s total export revenue and employs over 45 million people. This sector is also a major source of foreign exchange earnings, innovation, and cultural identity. India has a rich and diverse heritage of textile production, ranging from cotton, silk, wool, and jute to synthetic and blended fabrics. 

The country also has a strong presence in the global market for traditional and ethnic apparel, as well as fashion and ready-to-wear clothing. In this article, we will explore the market trends and global competitiveness of India’s textile and apparel exports, covering various segments such as cotton textiles, synthetic and blended textiles, ethnic and traditional apparel, fashion and ready-to-wear clothing, technical textiles in apparel, and innovation and technology in textile exports. 

We will also discuss the challenges in quality and standards, trade agreements and market access, and prospects for the sector.

Cotton Textiles

Cotton reigns as the world's primary natural fiber, constituting a quarter of global textile production. India leads as the top cotton producer and second-largest exporter. Its advantageous climate, vast cultivation, affordable labor, and skilled workforce contribute to this standing. 

Cotton exports have a rich history in India, though challenges persist like price volatility, low productivity, and environmental impact. India can tackle these obstacles by amplifying yield and quality, exploring organic and specialty kinds of cotton, bolstering branding, investing in R&D, and fortifying global partnerships. Cotton's universal appeal, marked by comfort and durability, positions it as a coveted textile worldwide.

Synthetic and Blended Textiles

Synthetic and blended textiles, crafted from artificial fibers like polyester, nylon, and rayon, or their mix with natural fibres, have surged in popularity. They offer cost-efficiency, durability, diversity, and versatility, serving fashion, sports, home, and technical domains. 

Many advisors predict a 6.7% CAGR growth in global synthetic textile demand by 2033 end. India ranks high in exporting these textiles, boasting robust synthetic manufacturing and a polyester edge due to cost-effectiveness.

Challenges encompass raw material dependency, innovation gaps, environmental concerns, and traditional barriers. India can counter these with local material production, innovative high-value products, sustainable practices, stronger branding, and exploring new markets and trade pacts.

Ethnic and Traditional Apparel

Ethnic and traditional clothing embodies the cultural essence of specific communities, often reflecting heritage, faith, or locality. India's examples include sarees, salwar kameez, and kurta. 

This segment is termed 'ethnic wear' or 'Indian wear' globally. Growing at 4.1% CAGR from 2020 to 2025, ethnic wear is prized for its aesthetics, comfort, and cultural significance. 

Influenced by trends and media, it enjoys escalating popularity. India, the prime exporter of ethnic wear, boasts diverse regional styles, materials, and craftsmanship. 

With 71% of the domestic apparel market, India's ethnic wear exports thrive in countries with Indian diaspora and high demand. Challenges include market awareness, quality control, competition, and IP rights. Mitigation involves branding, innovation, quality assurance, IP protection, and market expansion.

Fashion and Ready-to-Wear Clothing

Fashion and ready-to-wear attire, designed for mass consumption, embody current trends. Also known as Western or casual wear, it spans jeans, dresses, shirts, and more. 

Dominating the global apparel market, this segment is projected to grow at a 3.8% CAGR from 2020 to 2025, driven by evolving preferences, disposable income, urbanization, and digital platforms. India stands as a significant exporter, boasting skilled labor, cost efficiency, and materials. With 27% of the domestic market, India's exports target the US, EU, UAE, and Japan. 

Challenges include competition, sustainability, fashion flux, and trade barriers. India can counter by enhancing value, sustainability, branding, adaptation, and exploration of new markets.

Technical Textiles in Apparel

Technical textiles serve functional purposes rather than aesthetics and find use in agriculture, health, sports, and more. In apparel, they enhance performance and protection, like sports gear, medical textiles, and smart wearables. 

Projected to grow at a 6.2% CAGR from 2020 to 2025, technical textiles in apparel are fueled by demand for performance-oriented clothing, safety awareness, smart textiles, and material advancements. India, a rising contender, possesses production capability, skilled labor, and a burgeoning domestic market. 

Competitive edges include cost efficiency and traditional textile expertise. Challenges involved awareness, innovation, quality, competition, and trade barriers. Mitigation strategies include creating awareness, innovation, quality assurance, branding, and market expansion.

Challenges in Quality and Standards

Quality and standards are vital for successful textile and apparel exports. Quality represents product excellence meeting customer expectations, while standards define specifications. They enhance satisfaction, safety, efficiency, and compliance. Yet, exporters face challenges such as:

  1. Upholding quality standards throughout the supply chain is complex. Each production stage demands specific controls to ensure the final product's quality. Challenges arise from insufficient coordination, infrastructure, unskilled labor, subpar materials, and human errors.
  2. Adhering to global regulations is crucial for textile and apparel exporters. Regulations differ by region and cover safety, environment, labeling, and more. Challenges include a lack of awareness, high compliance costs, regulation complexity, and frequent changes.
  3. Certification and accreditation validate textile quality. They boost credibility, trust, and market entry. Challenges include body recognition, cost, and time. Mutual recognition issues also exist.

To overcome these challenges, textile and apparel exporters must adopt strategies such as improving quality management systems across the supply chain and increasing awareness.

Trade Agreements and Market Access

Trade deals and market entry shape textile and apparel exports. These agreements offer advantages like tariff cuts, simplified customs, and access expansion. Market entry depends on tariffs, barriers, preferences, and demand. India's bilateral and multilateral pacts have aided its textile exports. Sоme advantageous agreements include:

  • South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA): This is a free trade agreement among eight South Asian countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, and Afghanistan. Under this agreement, India has granted duty-free access to its market for textile products from least developed countries (LDCs) such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives.
  • India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA): This is a free trade agreement between India and 10 Southeast Asian countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Under this agreement, India has eliminated tariffs on 75% of its textile products exported to ASEAN countries.
  • Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with Singapore: This is a comprehensive trade agreement between India and Singapore that covers trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property rights, etc. Under this agreement, Singapore has eliminated tariffs on all its textile products imported from India.


Furthermore, India is also negotiating or exploring various other trade agreements with potential markets for its textile exports such as:

  1. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): It is a potential traditional deal involving 16 nations: 10 ASEAN countries, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and India. The goal is a unified market for goods, services, and investment. India exited in 2019 due to worries about China's trade imbalance, agricultural access, and origin rules.
  2. India-EU Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA): This is a proposed comprehensive trade agreement between India and the EU that covers trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property rights, etc. This agreement has been under negotiation since 2007 but has faced several hurdles due to differences over issues such as market access for agricultural products, data protection, geographical indications, etc.
  3. India-US Trade Deal: This is a proposed limited trade deal between India and the US that covers trade in goods, services, investment, etc. This deal has been under discussion since 2018 but has not been finalized due to disagreements over issues such as tariffs, market access for agricultural products, intellectual property rights, etc.

Innovation and Technology in Textile Exports

Innovation and technology are textile industry imperatives for global viability, efficiency, and sustainability. These advances enhance productivity, quality, and responsiveness. India's textile innovation strides stem from R&D, modernization, and innovation hubs. Notable advancements include:

Digital printing

This process uses digital technology to print designs and patterns on fabrics. Digital printing has several advantages over conventional printing such as lower cost, higher speed, greater flexibility, better quality, and less environmental impact. Digital printing can also enable customization, personalization, and mass customization of textile products.

Sustainable dyes

These are dyes that are derived from natural or renewable sources such as plants, insects, minerals, etc., or from synthetic sources that are biodegradable or recyclable. Sustainable dyes have several benefits over conventional dyes such as lower toxicity, lower water consumption, lower energy consumption, and lower carbon footprint. Sustainable dyes can also enhance the aesthetic appeal and functionality of textile products.

Innovation hubs

These are centers or platforms that facilitate collaboration among various stakeholders such as researchers, academicians, industry players, government agencies, etc., to foster innovation and technology in the textile sector. Innovation hubs can provide access to resources, expertise, networks, funding, etc., to support the development and commercialization of new products, processes, and services.


India’s textile and apparel exports have shown remarkable growth in the past decade, reaching $44.4 billion in 2020-21. However, the industry faces several challenges such as rising raw material costs, environmental regulations, labor issues, and competition from other countries. 

To sustain and enhance its global competitiveness, India needs to adopt various strategies such as improving product quality and design, diversifying into new markets and segments, investing in technology and innovation, and enhancing supply chain efficiency. 

Moreover, India can leverage its strengths and opportunities by collaborating and partnering with other stakeholders such as the government, industry associations, buyers, and suppliers. By doing so, India can achieve its potential of becoming a leading textile and apparel exporter in the world.

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