Importers look beyond China to Indian textiles

by Mie Sakamoto

NEW DELHI (Kyodo) In deflation-hit Japan, where Chinese textile products are seen everywhere, some companies are hoping Indian imports could also become popular.

Buyers are looking at India as a promising country in the textile industry, and Indian companies are also trying to increase exports to nations including Japan.

At a five-day exhibition in New Delhi that started Feb. 29, Indian textile companies gathered to meet importers working in the Japanese market and elsewhere.

According to the India Trade Promotion Organization, the governmental body that hosted the fair, the exhibition drew about 4,000 potential overseas buyers, including some 200 Japanese concerns.

“Everybody is doing business with China, so the attraction (of the business) has dropped by about half,” said participant Shunsuke Nakashima, vice president of Yamakiya Co., a company that deals in sales of interior products.

Nakashima, who came to the fair to look for textile products that can be paired with furniture, said he is looking for the next country his company can do business with to beat the competition.

A buyer from a company that operates do-it-yourself stores in Japan also said he thinks India will probably become Japan’s next business partner, after China, in textiles.

“Though the products are made for the United States and European countries, their quality and designs are sophisticated,” he said, adding that he came away with favorable impressions at the fair to start business with an Indian company.

The overall volume of Indian textiles that are exported to Japan has not changed much, but high quality and expensive Indian garments are gaining popularity in Japan.

At the Sun Motoyama Ginza store in Tokyo, women in their late 30s to 40s shop for garments that are quite different from conventional clothing, said Mitsue Yamagishi, a buyer from the store.

Sun Motoyama, which offers imported luxury apparel, home furnishings and jewelry, started selling high-quality Indian textiles in 2000. The prices of such products range from tens of thousands of yen to 1 million yen.

“Our customers seem to be selecting garments that have different character when compared with dresses and kimono worn at such occasions as weddings and parties,” Yamagishi said.

Indian textile companies are also trying to increase exports as the Indian government aims to expand the amount of textile exports to $50 billion in 2010, up from about $5 billion in 2000.

Manju Shrinagesh, who runs the home furnishing textile company Design 45, said she wants to increase business with Japanese companies. The firm currently provides Japan’s Ichida Co. with home furnishing textiles such as cushion covers designed by Ralph Lauren.

The company, which also designs and manufactures its own products, including cushion and bed covers, wants to increase business with more Japanese companies, Shrinagesh said.

Manju’s son, Rahul, also in the management of Design 45, said Japan is a lucrative market, as products that clear Japan’s strict standards are considered to be of high quality in other countries as well.

“If the products match Japanese standards, they can also match other countries’ standards,” he said.

Meanwhile, some Japanese companies are turning to India to reduce risks stemming from concentrating their imports in only one country.

Koji Iso, president of Entoh & Co., which mainly sells cotton bags, said he came to the fair because he wanted to reduce risks.

The company currently buys jute bags from India but depends on China to purchase its mainstay cotton bags, Iso said.

“Though costs are still very low in China, they may start to rise due to a possible revaluation of the yuan,” he said.

Miyama Hotta, president of Osaka-based i.i.i. Co., is someone who saw business potential in India and set up I.I. Inspection & Export (I.I.I.E.) Pvt. Ltd. in 2001 to inspect Indian garments for shipment to Japan.

Hotta said the demand for such a service is likely to increase as the company is obtaining favorable responses from Japanese companies as well as Indian firms, which say the rate of returned garments due to defects has decreased considerably.

“Now, more Indian companies ask for their products to be inspected by I.I.I.E. because they receive less claims from Japanese companies,” Hotta said.

I.I.I.E. expects to see revenues of 60 million yen in 2004, up sharply from the 40 million yen it chalked up in 2003.

Hotta said many Japanese perceive Indian garments as ethnic, but their designs are Europe-oriented and India is becoming a production base for garments sold in Europe.

“There are materials that can only be made in India, and garments made from such materials are selling well in Europe” and they are likely to gain popularity in Japan as well, he said.