– Samuel Joseph 

In today’s world, sportswear is almost synonymous with athleisure because after the ravaging of Covid, which is still lingering around, both these genres & their brands are fighting for space in the retailers shops. Both the fitness and sports brands are vying for more space in shops they sell. The retailers will surely benefit till the festival season is over. The hypermarket and supermarket are looking out for a larger market share of functional apparel because most of the products/ services are conveniently available at a low rate in such stores. These stores promote the availability of practical fashion items, both branded and private label, says a report that appeared recently.Leading companies comprising Nike Inc., Adidas AG, Asics Corporation, Hanes Brand Inc., Reebok, Jockey International Inc., Russell Brands LLC, PUMA S.E., Hugo Boss AG, and Columbia Sportwear Company, among others are very keen to know what is happening in the functional garment market.

The global sportswear market size was estimated at US$ 262.51 billion in 2019 and was expected to reach US$ 288.42 billion in 2020. Sportswear, identical to the word activewear, is used for sporting events and exercise, which comprises all the paraphernalia like jogger pants, yoga pants, and even sports bras. Sportswear’s global market hit US$533.5 billion in 2020. The sportswear industry is one of the fastest runners in the clothing industries, spurred by current global clothing trends. It is interesting to note here current reports indicate the market revenue doubled over the years. The sudden upsurge is due to the fact that sportswear as casual wear demand from the public is going up & up.

Other trends noticeable is that the variety of goods dealing with this industry is also expanding. Not only customers are interested in this market. Producers, sportswear companies, designers, fashionista s involved with all these segments, etc and so on & on. The word ‘athleisure’ is a recently coined word by the industry and may be by some interested parties who have a liking for blending words to make this word. In today’s world everyone knows the meaning of this word, for it expresses the meanings of what is leisure and athletes. Both are sought by the industry that is making athleisure as well as the consumers, who are seeking comfort, ease, fashion, etc. In short who wants to buy athleisure? Young consumers from the ageof 16 to 30 are behind its growth, who are keen to dress younger and feel younger. Some old people cannot be ruled out because one sees many senior citizens are today going for walks, even light jogging & even ‘gymming’ because fitness and comfort are two of their focus on their minds doing these activities. Causal wearers and yoga enthusiasts are also looking for athleisure. Fitness and health-consciousness is the driving forces behind this mounting demand.

India’s domestic Sportech market is ruled by the Sports Footwear Components category which covers more than three-fourths of the segment’s share of market. Technical textiles elements in Sports Composites come the next bigger share of the market. Though artificial turf is a man-made fibre (synthetic fibre) surface that is often used as an alternative to natural grass,the technology has gone through a paradigm shift in the last some years and the latest team of artificial grass includes three different players ofplastic: polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (most widely used) and nylon (durable polyamide). Turf as many know, is a technical textile end-product which is often used in place of a lawn in any setting, sports like football and lawn tennis or otherwise on can even see on wedding receptions halls. The usage may expand in application if it is biodegradable, feel many. And already research is ongoing with many claiming that man-made fibres can be made biodegradable.

(Read the Dr. Mahapatra’s article under the COVER STORY section in this issue)

The Sportech is one of the fast-paced sectors of technical textile the shares of which is around 7% of Indian technical textiles market. Sports textile sector is categorised into three major categories: Sportswear, sport goods and sport accessories. Further, Sportech comprises of technical textile products used in sports and leisure such as sport shoes, sports composites, flying and sailing sports, parachute fabrics, artificial turf, ballooning fabrics etc. The use high functional and smart textiles have proven their high level of performance and succeeded in their functional properties. According to the functional requirements of sports, special apparels for specific sports are manufactured. Many fibres, yarns, fabrics and finishes have been developed to meet the needs of the sports sector.Sports textiles have some special features, which have been made possible by the use of high-tech and smart textile technology. Sports textiles must have the features of adaptability, easy to wear, easy handling etc. and also the ability to transport heat and moisture i.e., fast drying and cooling function. Moreover, sports textiles have very high electrical conductivity, so they must have anti-static performance and also be resistant to anti-microbial apart from its ability to provide protection from ultraviolet rays, air and water permeability, low water absorption of the layer of clothing facing the skin. Moisture absorption, strength, durability, lightness, thermal conductivity, etc.

The Sportech segment has grown at a CAGR of 19.58 percent between 2017-18 and 2019-20. Moreover, more than 10 percent of revenue of the segment has come from exports during this period. Sports shoes and sportswear accounts for majority of sales revenue of the segment, with their share hovering from 60-80 percent. The average utilisation of the production capacity in the Sportech segment has increased from 60 percent in 2017-18 to 87 percent in 2019-20. The actual production has consistently risen from 2017-18 to 2019-20.

According to the Government sources, Textile Research Associations (most of them), Centres of Excellence (Wool Research Association), Bureauof Indian Standards (BIS), Academic Institutions, Apex Industry Associations, other Manufacturers Associations,Focus Incubation Centres and Technology Parks are the focus areas in India. Artificial turf includes areas coveringhigh performance sportswear and swimwear, parachute fabrics, sleeping bags, sports composites, sports footwear components, tents, ballooning fabrics, sports nets, sports strings& so on. The Government has put Sportech as almost the last category for obvious reasons and also due to the fact that Sportech is yet to develop in a big way in India.

Sportech includes innovation, and the Government opines that technical textile is revealing new applications and opportunities driven by technology-led innovations. Countries and enterprises that are investing in developing new technologies, fostering innovation, encouraging entrepreneurship and upgrading their system of teaching and training human resources have taken a lead over others in establishing themselves as major sources of supplyof technical textiles machines and products. The experience so far suggests that such countries and enterprises also form collaborations and leverage networks to share knowledge and introduce innovations. Technical textile-interested parties are also significant sources of supply, and also the main consumers of technical textiles.

The Indian Government indicates in a study that China, USA and Germany, are not only leading countries for production and exports of technical textile but also are its three leading consumers. These three countries put together account for more than 60 percent. of the value of global annual output of technical textiles. China is the largest producer, accounting for nearly one-third of global production; USA accounts for one-fourth of the global production. These two countries also happen to be the two largest consumers of technical textiles. Exports from Chinese technical textile industry comprise a significant part of international trade in all segments of technical textiles.

However, the Government sees certain reasons behind the reasons for the low volume of Sportech awareness in the industry. One such reason is a lack of good converters to finished products in Indian textile supply as well as lack of collaboration between industry and technical institutions for research & development. The Government adds more to cover this gap:  • There is a huge gap between R&D laboratories where product development for technical textiles takes place and the fabric producers; The lack of facilities to promote manufacturing of raw materials and inputs has created a disadvantage for Indian Clothtech manufacturers especially in export markets; • In Clothtech segment, lack of local machine manufacturing has resulted in high dependence of Indian Clothtech producers on machines imported from China; Because of insufficient consumer demand which discourages local investors and entrepreneurs, manyproducts of the Sportech segment are not manufactured in India and have to be imported from outside; There is lack of raw material manufacturing capacity in the country for Sportech industry; The Hometech industry, which also uses man-made fibres, is characterised by low levels of commercialisation of new products andlack of access to advancement in new technology; It was highlighted that India is the largest producer of cotton. Farm level traceability (that is requiredby markets in developed countries) of Indian grown cotton is not practiced in India’s textile supply chain; One more important fact is the lack of branding of cotton fibre (we only have Kasturi Cotton). These two deficiencies have a huge negative impact on acceptability of Indian Hometech products by international buyers;  India fulfils its requirement of speciality fibres through import from China, Japan, USA or EU countries; Even though India has ample natural fibre resources, it has lagged behind in commercialisation of these fibres due to processing and manufacturing difficulties; There is very little collaboration among industry, academia and researchers towards better utilisation of advanced technology.

The global sports goods industry has been expanding rapidly on account of factors such as growing focusof governments towards promoting sports activities and events, rising disposable incomes, changinglifestyle, increasing fitness awareness, as well as increasing sports participation, particularly in thedeveloping economies. According to the Global Wellness Institute, globally, the per capita consumerspending on sports and recreation activities stands at nearly US$ 90 per year, which is indicative of thesignificant potential demand for sports goods. On the back of the growing demand, the revenues ofthe global sports goods sector recorded a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of nearly 5.2 percentduring 2012 to 2019, to reach an estimated US$ 126.2 billion in 2019.

The Under Union Budget 2020-21, a National Technical Textiles Mission was proposed for a period from 2020-21 to 2023-24 at an estimated outlay of Rs. 1,480 crore. In the same budget, the Government of India

allocated around Rs. 3,515 crores to the Ministry of Textiles and Rs. 80 crore for the Integrated Textile Parks Scheme. The Government has launched production-linked incentive scheme to provide incentives for manufacture and exports of specific textile products made from man-made fibre. Under this scheme, the government has approved Rs. 10,683 Crores for manufacture of manmade fibres and technical textiles

The Governmental information board does not give much details on Sportech because sports textiles is only a fast-growing child in India, showing greater appetite for big growth. It holds out much information on technical textiles in general, according to the understanding of this writer. Neither can we get much information from all sources, but some good information on only sports goods thanks to rise in sports awareness as a result of India getting recognition in this country and abroad with newspapers giving greater coverage by increasing the number of pages. Advertisers are keen to battle it out with bigger personalities like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulakr & also Virat Kohli (still the much-watchedads on TV & elsewhere) and all who get their money’s worth. This crowd is also running faster because they are ready to get medals’ (Read, ‘money’) worth.

Afterall, the writer has to end with the most-seen sports on many places in India, particularly ‘amchi’ Mumbai.

Samuel Joseph