On a recent morning in Chennai, I met my friend and fellow fashion blogger Aurobindo.
“It’s just a few dollars per square inch,” he said as we walked to the Fabric Factory.
“But it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of fabric I’ve ever seen.”
The Fabric Factory is a new clothing manufacturing facility in the heart of Chennai.
It has been run by the city’s first and only garment manufacturer for a decade and is an example of how a vibrant, low-key city can transform itself into a vibrant garment hub.
It is one of a number of factories being built around India that have been given permission to produce clothing at lower cost, while still offering a good value for money.
Aurobindicar is a textile manufacturer, maker and distributor based in Kolkata.
His factory has been providing high-quality garments for more than 30 years, and it is also one of those factories with the cheapest prices anywhere.
The factory has a very low turnover, said Auroindar.
“I get the money from the customers, from the suppliers, from my own pocket.
I don’t have any special interest, I just work as hard as I can.”
He said he has been working in the city for over a decade, but it wasn’t until he moved to Kolkatta that he began to realise that the city was becoming an emerging centre of clothing manufacturing.
For many years, clothing was produced in different locations around the city, often in garages, sheds and small factories.
The problem was that these locations often lacked quality control and sometimes there were no facilities or staff to keep them clean.
Then in 2004, when a new government was elected in Kollam, the state capital, it changed the whole process.
At the time, the government promised that the textile sector would get more attention.
“But it was very vague and didn’t really give us any direction.
We were in a mess and we were having problems getting the proper machinery,” said Airobindo, a textile entrepreneur who worked in the area when he moved from Kolkataka to Chennai.
“It wasn’t clear if we could start making clothes from scratch.”
He says the textile industry was already thriving in the small city of around 400,000 people, but when the new government decided to open up factories, he was worried.
“I was scared.
Why would anyone want to open a factory here?
How would they know?”
He said he was told that they would be able to find a factory site by consulting a list of factories in other parts of India.
When Aurondar asked him what that list meant, he said he just assumed that the list was an advertisement for a factory to be built in Kalkamalai, which he was unfamiliar with.
“We thought we were going to be making clothes here for about a year.
I didn’t know where the factory was going to come from.”
The first factory opened in 2006, but since then it has expanded.
Today, Auronder says his factory makes clothes for around 200 different brands.
“If we are going to make clothes, it’s really important that we are not making stuff that is too similar to the brands that we already have,” he explained.
With the number of manufacturing facilities in India growing by around 25 per cent a year, many factories have now found it difficult to compete with the likes of China, India and the US.
But despite the challenges, the fabric industry in India has a long way to go.
In Kolkati, the textile manufacturing sector is still underdeveloped, with factories located far from population centres.
“Even with the new legislation, you can’t manufacture in the middle of the night.
The factory has to be open late at night.
So, the quality of the products are very low,” said Dr K Srinivasan, chairman of the Kolkatavithu Textile Board.
Kolkata is also home to a number factories, some of which are struggling.
India’s textile industry is largely dominated by small manufacturers.
A recent survey found that there were only 2,500 textile manufacturers in the country.
One of these, the Chennai textile factory, has just one employee.
“We had to hire three people to produce the clothes.
That’s why the quality is low,” Auroinder said.
As he says, “The quality is very low.
It’s not like you can make good clothes in the US or China or India.”