INTERVIEW
TEXTILE INDUSTRY

By ABDUL KUNDI
Aug 02 - 08, 2004

ANITA JILANI is a senior partner in an Apparel import company in the Fashion district of New York. She has extensive knowledge of international apparel industry, market trends and customer preferences.

Her diversified expertise in production sourcing and merchandising has provide her an insight to be able to form productive working relationships with manufacture from various parts of the globe like China, South Africa, Swaziland, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Jordan. She started her career as a technical assistant for a local production house and quickly rose to head the department. Playing key role in company reorganization by splitting sales and sourcing functions, revitalizing product mix, improving merchandizing strategies, and reorganizing territories, conceptualize merchandise and supervise new product lines, research new fashion trends. Since then single handedly dealing with companies like Macy's, Dillards, Saks and Nieman Marcus and so many other private brands.

PAGE: Tell us something about the textile industry in USA?

ANITA: Textiles were considered a backbone of any economy before the emergence of industries like automobiles, information technology and aviation. Textiles still play a significant role in our daily lives. In addition to our clothing, homes, and work places, many areas of our lives depend on textiles. In 2002, world trade in textiles was worth approximately $371 billion, or about 6.6% of global merchandise trade. The textile industry has a long history in the United States, dating back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The US textile industry of today has changed significantly over the past 20 years. The industry is now high-tech and globally competitive. US have increasingly relied on low-cost production countries to cater to its manufactured textile needs although US is still among the top three producers of raw cotton. Textiles and apparel are responsible for about 20 percent of the US trade deficit. Last year, the deficit in textile and apparel trade was an estimated $52 billion. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 2002, the US imported $69.1 billion worth of textile goods making it the largest importer. Exports are around $17 billion.

PAGE: How do you see the future of textile imports to USA after the abolition of quotas?

ANITA: Well! Everyone agrees that China has the capacity to flood the market; it is unlikely to be in the country's best interest to do so. Under the terms of China's accession to the WTO in December 2001, WTO members may impose specific safeguard measures, such as increased tariffs or quotas on Chinese goods, if the importing country determines that such shipments from China disrupt or threaten to disrupt the market. Perhaps the most important reason why China will not flood the market is simple: The US government still has the power to prevent it.

Although China is expected to become the "supplier of choice" for most US textile and apparel importers after 2005, US importers should expand trade relationships with other low-cost countries, such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, to reduce the risk of sourcing from only one country.

Smart companies are focusing more on their fabric resources, custom issues, social responsibility, labor and logistics. Any one of these dynamics could help define the new competitive edge of the textile and apparel company in the post-2005 world.

Although China will take large parts of the US apparel market in the post-quota period, other countries such as Pakistan and India may be considered as serious challengers. China will undergo its share of tough times during the 2004 production year. Quotas are going to cripple its exports, as prices are expected to be high.

PAGE: What are the problems faced by the Pakistani garment industry?

ANITA: Pakistan is considered an important component of the world textile trade because it produces close to 11% of world production. Any disruption in its production due to bad weather or a bad crop adversely affects the future cotton contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Cotton buyers use future contracts to attain predictable raw material pricing. In last two decades Pakistan has progressively moved from exporting raw cotton to finished products. Cotton and textile products constitute over 65% share of the total exports, which also speaks for its importance for Pakistan. Is the industry ready for global competition? I don't think so. First of all we are catering to low end of the market. Secondly, large numbers of our spinning mills still produce coarse count of fiber, which is, not suitable for high-end production and requires further processing. We lack expertise in other areas like designing and branding. India and China have progressed well in this area by joining hands with leading brands. We also lack investments in logistics to provide value in the delivery chain. Chinese manufacturers operating from Hong Kong are leading this trend. They increasingly providing value proposition to their buyers by assuming logistics responsibilities to institute just in time concept in textiles.

PAGE: On the quality matrix where does Pakistani products stand in the US markets?

ANITA: The ground rules of manufacturing have changed. The large scale, mass production methods that brought the world great prosperity over the last 50 years will no longer ensure future competitiveness. Customers demand high quality, competitive prices, a wide selection of products, and quick responses to changing needs. Consequently, the textile industry is undergoing a dramatic transition from the mass production model of the past to the agile manufacturing model of the future. Successful companies of the future must be able to rapidly and economically produce large or small quantities of world-class products in response to market demand.

PAGE: What should be the future strategy of garment exporters?

ANITA: We have to address this question from all fronts. First of all we need insight into the consumers preferences. We can learn about that by collaborating with leading design houses in US and Europe. Then we need to invest more in international marketing by establishing sales offices in world centers like Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and London. Third we have to migrate from low end to high end products. Fourth we have to assume higher responsibility in the logistics value chain by implementing technology to ensure timely error free delivery of merchandise. Increasing number of Chinese manufacturers are providing warehousing facility to their buyers until the goods are needed. These companies are also analyzing data and sales patterns to arrive at the optimum inventory level for their customers.

The future will require entirely new manufacturing processes that can switch from product to product with zero waste, whether it is spinning fibers or dyeing fabric. Success will require technologies that enable companies to make small quantities of apparel, even custom apparel, at the cost of bulk-produced items. Greater environmental stewardship will be achieved through technologies that minimize use of natural resources and discharge no net waste to the environment. Buyers are looking for one stop shop.

PAGE: 50% of our population is female but still we don't see many female professionals in the market. What is your opinion on that?

ANITA: In my opinion the country cannot progress until all of us work hard both men and women. In developed countries there are some functions that are dominated by women like personnel management, market/stock analysis, designing and merchandising, and real state sales. These functions are best suited to the physical and psychological stature of women. Unfortunately in Pakistan in some large cities like Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad and Sukkur, it is still next to impossible for women to get out of their homes and become productive members of the society. In last decade the environment for female workers have improved a lot in cities like Karachi and Lahore. But we are still living in primitive times when it comes to allowing women to work. If we are really patriotic we need to encourage our women to be our partners in progress.

PAGE: Are there many Pakistani women in this field in New York?

ANITA: Unfortunately no. There is only handful of female senior executives of Pakistan origin. One reason India and China is getting a lot of business from US is the presence of buyers from these countries. We need to facilitate hiring of Pakistani merchandisers by US brands.