Sustainability, in the Indian textile and apparel industry, is one of the most discussed subjects, but as the same time, it is surrounded by several questions and confusions too. Even today, the majority of owners in the industry are not very well familiar with the concept of sustainability. They haven’t even heard of the term ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs), which is a collection of 17 global goals, designed to be a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’. The SDGs were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.
Many owners and professionals from the industry, despite being part of sustainability, are also confused about raw materials. Majority of consumers and experts from the industry criticise fast fashion. Slow fashion (less production) can impact the growth of the industry, and in fact, will have fewer opportunities for workers. The issue of a living wage has already been struggling for decades, while there are a lot of cases where workers are not treated well. Is ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Circular Economy’ the answer to all such things? Moreover, companies have to be financially sustainable too.
There are only a few players in the Indian textile and apparel industry that publish their annual sustainability reports, like Reliance Industries, Arvind Ltd. and Aditya Birla Group. As far as Indian apparel exporters are concerned, not even a single export house has ever come up with a dedicated documented sustainability report.
The Union Minister of Textiles Smriti Irani also raised the point few months back in a conference, questioning why the majority of top Indian apparel exporters are not able to raise their sustainability stories to their overseas buyers. At the same time, we can hope that having proper sustainability professionals will help the overall industry.
So, it becomes quite apparent now that the Indian textile and apparel industry needs strong, well-trained and qualified sustainability professionals on both national and global levels. But does India have such courses and training programmes?
Before exploring the status of sustainability education in India, it is also pertinent to mention here that many industry professionals believe while a professional degree is important, factors like deep knowledge of sustainable issues, continuous upgrading as per new developments and experience of the industry hold even more relevance. For example, Chief Sustainability Officers in the textile industry are performing well despite being from various other departments of the industry.
Pratibha Syntex, Indore, is among Indian apparel companies focusing on sustainability measures; it follows most of the sustainable practices, and in fact, it is said that sustainability is in its DNA. Mrinal Bose, Manager – Sustainability, Pratibha Syntex, has been managing things for the last 4 years in the company. “A dedicated course is not required to become a successful sustainable professional, as more than that, you need strong learning, updates about the required processes, and you need to keep evolving yourself,” said Mrinal who holds a BSc. Chemistry (Honours) degree.
It is at the discretion of the owners of apparel companies whether to have people from other departments with a passion for sustainability or to trust only well-qualified sustainable professionals to manage sustainability at their firms. Many owners believe that the industry can work both ways.
“Professional experts in operations can develop expertise in sustainability; it will not take much time or efforts. Likewise, sustainable professionals with proper degrees have to develop knowledge about operations,” Sarbajit Ghose, CIEL Textile Board Member, and Asia Executive Director & MD, Laguna Clothing, Bengaluru.
He further added that it is not right to say that people who come with a sustainability degree are very expensive. “Sustainability is getting importance at the customer front, so looking at that, good sustainability professionals deserve a premium. It will help companies to satisfy their customers regarding sustainability,” he said.
No doubt, having proper essential education and industry experience will add more value to the industry’s requirements regarding sustainability. Courses that are now available were not offered decades ago, so finding a proper professional was not possible back then.
Apparel Resources got in touch with a few young professionals who are working in some prominent apparel companies, and at the same time, did their professional degree courses too.
Gauri Sharma, Master of Studies – Sustainability Leadership from the University of Cambridge (Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership), is working as OD Manager at Shahi Exports and is also the Co-founder of SUSS (A community and movement to build awareness and start conversations around sustainable fashion in India). She said, “Most of the courses available in India are hard-core environment-related, while my priority was sustainability in business, and I found this specific course at the University of Cambridge. Many students ask me about courses on sustainability, specifically related to the apparel industry, especially in the context of India, but there are very few such courses.”
Kapil Kamra, Senior Fabric Technologist, Asmara International, Bangladesh, has done around 20 short-term online courses in the last 4 months during the COVID-19 phase. “I couldn’t find any major online course regarding sustainability from any Indian institute, so the majority of my courses were from Coursera, LinkedIn, UN, etc. I must say that few colleges are now thinking in this direction, and in future, we can see some courses which will serve the purpose of the Indian apparel industry regarding sustainability.”
It is hard to find a course specifically dedicated to the textile and apparel industry in India. National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Azim Premji University, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), The Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) are some of the prestigious platforms for courses. But none of them offers any courses dedicated to the apparel industry.
Various courses at NIFT talk about sustainable production, design for sustainability and special focus on best practices of sustainability. Some students have done research projects on various issues of sustainability. In its annual report, NIFT said “Being a socially responsible institution focusing on shaping the future generations of citizens, NIFT has taken up lead in incorporating Sustainability Reporting in its Annual Report with the reporting on Sustainability done under various categories as a starting point.” Various workshops, lectures, research papers, etc. are part of sustainability-related initiatives, but there is no full-fledged UG or PG course for the same.
A year before, it was announced that NIFT’s Bhubaneswar campus would set up a Centre for Sustainable Fashion to promote the use of organic textiles and train the next generation of sustainable fashion designers. However, as per a campus official, the centre’s work has been delayed due to some natural disasters.
Binaya Bhusan Jena, the man behind this project and Director, NIFT Bhubaneswar, told Apparel Resources, “Absolutely, there is need for proper and well-educated sustainable professionals in the Indian apparel industry, as sustainability is becoming more important day by day. These professionals are required to bring a truly sustainable process across all departments of the factory and to create a proper ecosystem.”
TERI School of Advanced Studies is leading in sustainability education in India, as it offers plenty of course covering a wide gamut of courses right from MBA, M.Tech., LLM, Doctoral Programme, Diploma and Certificate courses (regular classroom as well as by distance education).
Centre for Sustainable Employment (CSE) is a research centre at Azim Premji University, whose aim is to generate and support research in the areas of job creation, skills, quality of work, labour laws and sustainable livelihoods.
Various centres of India’s most prestigious IIM offer programmes in Sustainable Management, Sustainable Finance, etc. IIM Sirmaur has Centre for Sustainability & Environment Management, IIHS Bangalore has School of Environment and Sustainability, and the courses are on ecology and environmental geography, sustainable regions, environmental law and policy and energy.
Few of the above-mentioned and other institutes offer online courses from time to time.
We must mention some recent developments in this regard. Just 2 months back, the Delhi University announced the School of Climate Change and Sustainability under the Institute of Eminence Scheme. This school will tackle the problems related to climate change and explore the possibilities of sustainable development with a focus on national development. Few other colleges also offer courses like M.Sc. – Sustainable Development, B.Voc. Industrial Waste Management, Conservation of Natural Resources, etc.
Though it is a fact that sustainability is rooted in Indian culture, and circular economy has been a part of Indian culture for centuries, but now the western world is more aggressively working in this direction. And since the apparel export industry is buyer-driven, the domestic industry also follows the western world.
2 years ago, Kering (a global luxury group) and London College of Fashion launched the world’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) dedicated to sustainability and luxury fashion. Overseas institutes have also taken lead in the sustainability courses dedicated to the apparel sector. Sustainable Fashion Academy, Sweden, offers live, customised, tailored training and online courses. One of its courses is The Sustainability Fundamentals (it claims to be the world’s first online course in sustainable apparel). Platforms like Coursera have hundreds of courses related to sustainability and many of them are directly related to the fashion industry. And thousands of students and professionals are taking up these courses.
A few months back, a senior faculty member of sustainability who is teaching abroad and is associated with sustainable activities in India, told Apparel Resources, “Irrespective of any specific industry, the overall sustainability education is in a confused state. And the major reason for the same is that education globally is becoming market-oriented, funding from key stakeholders and policymakers (mainly private bodies) to the institutes is decreasing, and there is less public funding. Where the money comes from determines what would be taught. It is not that one doesn’t want to teach intentionally, but they are forced due to funding.”
He further added that there are four types of institutes – first, those who are determined and would fight against all odds or challenges; second, those who wish to do but don’t have internal capabilities; third, those who wish to do but are confused and don’t know how to proceed further; and fourth, those who really don’t wish to do anything in this regard.
All in all, having learned sustainability professionals will definitely add value to any apparel manufacturing unit. But we are left with an important and unanswered question – who will come forward to explore this opportunity?