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Monday, February 20, 2012

Tees from Tirupur

Last time when  my younger brother visited me, I happened  to purchase few vests (Banians) for  my personal use. After having looked at the price tags,  he declared that they are available at half the price at his place i.e. Coimbatore. I was a little bit amused but I knew that what he is talking about were the factory outlets. I told him that I will get them when I am at his place. On my return journey from Kerala I happened to stay with him for a fortnight. One day even before I could remind, he casually asked me if I have any plans to purchase vests any more. I replied in the affirmative adding that I would also like to buy few Tees (T Shirts) as they too are said to be cheaper there. He nodded and suggested for a visit to a knitting factory at Tirupur with whom he had friendly connections. Very next day we were on our way.
The city of Tirupur with a population of over half a million, lies 55 kilometers North of Coimbatore and happens to be a major manufacturing centre of hosiery. The knitwear industry here accounts for around 80% of knitted garments in the country. Their exports stand at Rs.12,000 crores (120 million) annually and the domestic supply is said to be over Rs.5000 crores. There are around 10 to 12 factories where everything is done under one roof including dyeing. Every factory employs around 1000 to 3000 skilled workers. Most of the industrial units come under the category of ‘Small Scale’ barring the few bigger ones. There are around 500 units engaged in spinning and weaving and some 3000 in stitching. Practically every household contributes in one way or the other. There were several units engaged in dyeing but due to the  pollution they emanate, many of them closed down because of judicial intervention. Now it is understood that they have equipped themselves with non polluting technologies and are into convincing the courts for their revival. All the smaller units here are engaged in some kind of job work for one another. The factories of Tirupur produce knitwear for all the major brands across the world. Indian brands like Lyril, Lux Roopa etc. get manufactured here but one may not say “exclusively” for this is a kind of job work which is outsourced.
Exported hosiery some times gets returned on certain technical grounds or due to the inability of the importers to pay for them. Such goods get sold at  throw away prices, a kind of distress sale, in Khadarpet market near the local Railway Station.

After an hour’s drive, we were at a Hosiery Factory where one of it's directors was a friend of my brother. In addition to Tees, this factory manufactures Tops, Inners, Slips, winter wear etc. for women and children. We were welcomed and provided with play cards to be worn around the neck to indicate our VVIP status before we could venture into their manufacturing areas. I wanted to see the entire process from the very beginning i.e. from raw cotton onwards. The factory had their  independent spinning  unit which produced yarn out of raw cotton. It was interesting to see the large machines spinning cotton  and rolling/wrapping the thread in many ways onto the spindles, small and large. Some of the spindles were larger than gasoline drums. There were hundreds of parallel thread streams getting collected on those drum like spindles. We were told that those spindles are sent to other weaving units who manufacture cloth (not knitwear). In the backyard of the large shed, the open courtyard was strewn with bales of waste cotton which get sold out as cattle feed. Part of it goes to paddy fields to improve soil fertility.

Back in the main factory building we were taken around the knitting section where we found the end use  of those smaller spindles. The round machines of various dimensions were engaged in churning out knitted cloth cylindrically.  The knitted cloth then finds its place over large tables in several layers. The specifications provided by the Importers/principal companies owning particular brands are stored in a computer. While cutting the cloth some amount of wastage becomes inevitable. The computer throws out various options and when the wastage level is around 18% (that is said to be the tolerable level) the automatic cutting machines receive commands from the computer operator, which in turn cuts the knitted cloth as per the design specified.  Sleeves, Collars and the main body parts are stacked separately which go to the stitching sections. The whole process gets accomplished in minutes.

As said above for stitching the different pieces together, which includes buttons/fasteners, hundreds of people are engaged working in different teams. After the stitching the Tees emerge in one piece. They then travel to people who press them and fold them. Finally they are sent for packing but before doing so they are labelled (Branded!). Thereafter they get wrapped in pre-printed polythene packets with logos and all other things as desired by the Importer. Even price tags (In Euros are US Dollars) are affixed. In some cases the packaging of individual Tees are provided with hangers as well. The importer has nothing to add on and they are ready to be hanged in show cases. Now is the time when they get into card board cartons but before that the representative of the Importing Company ensures that all the standards specified have been adhered to. The cartons move to large containers and get  placed appropriately (pre-determined space), ready to be shipped.

Around 2.00 PM we completed our learning mission and instead of a few Tees we could not resist filling our cart with not less than 2 dozens of them. They were at much much below the market rates. Of course, they did not bear any brand as such but were otherwise genuinely manufactured for an internationally acclaimed brand. The factory is not supposed to provide branded garments locally, however they are allowed to manufacture 10% over and above the contracted volume. This comes in handy for the factory to entertain their valued connections locally.
Incidentally, we forgot about Vests altogether.

Monday, February 6, 2012

In search of tranquility

City dwellers, in search of peace and solitude, keep certain places, closer to nature, identified, where they frequent during the week ends. While at Coimbatore, we were also exploring such avenues when we learnt about a water fall close by at a distance of about 30 kms. It is fondly called "Kovai Kurtalam" because it is said to resemble the famous Kurtalam falls of Tamilnadu, though a little smaller.    Coimbatore is referred to as "Kovai" in the vernacular parlance. The mountain stream culminating into a fall is under the foot hills of the western ghat mountain ranges, surrounded by rain forests. Since we had a full day to invest, we thought of visiting a place known as Isha Foundations Dhyana Linga, more or less on the same route. This centre is claimed to be  offering spiritual inner realisation. They have created a spherical structure with congenial atmosphere for meditation. However our focus was neither spirituality nor meditation but were simply drawn there out of our curiosity for some kind of appreciation of the activities thereat. The locale was quite cherish able. After having our lunch in their canteen, we drove out.
Now we were heading towards the "Kovai Kurtalam" water falls. There was an easy and direct approach but we preferred to reach there driving through the countryside, with winding roads, connecting obscure villages. One reason for this was availability of ample time and our own inner desire to understand the hinterland. On our way there were paddy fields becoming ready to be harvested followed by a plantation of Curry Leavs (Sweet Neem), Turmeric, Banana plantations, Areca nut Plantations and so on. It was really enjoyable to have a real feel of these crops growing in that area. We stopped at some places to capture the landscape in our cameras.

While passing through the outskirts of a village we could find an open shrine dedicated to the serpent Gods who are believed to protect the village from epidemics etc.  This is a kind of animal worship (zoolatry)/nature worship prevalent in the pre modern societies all over the world. This still continues notwithstanding the advent of all ‘isms.
There was a small town, the end of the habitational area, on the banks of a rivulet formed possibly by the same waterfall we were heading for. We had to cross a bridge beyond which lied the forest area with their check post and barricades. We had to buy our entry passes. 

The journey continued through the forest area with paddy fields in between and the mountains coming closer to us. Shortly we were inside the thickly forested zone and we found that people were required to park their vehicles in an opening created for the purpose.There were separate parking areas for four wheelers and two wheelers. Two wheelers were in much larger numbers.

From this point onwards we were required to walk down the distance of about 2 kilometres through the jungle path. Interestingly  the forest department people have created a suspension bridge with the support of the tall trees for quite a good distance. We thought of using it while returning. The walk also provided some beautiful sceneries of mountains and  water gushing down the hills. The wild growth on the pathway was also home to several insects. Some colourful spiders attracted our attention and we could not resist from approaching them for a closer view.

At the end of the pathway, to our left was the waters from the mountains making its way through the rocky surface and to cross over it we were to pass through a narrow bridge. Immediately thereafter there were stairs climbing deep down. We went up to a distance and had a glimpse of what could be expected at the end. The water has been made to fall down taking a broader shape for which some man made constructions were visible. We thought not to venture deep down fearing that we would need to exert a lot to come up. 

Instead we settled before the bridge and enjoyed looking at families, boys and girls who had made space for themselves, where ever they found it convenient.There were some monkeys too to keep company with.

Around 5.00 PM we thought of returning when my nephew joined us after his explorations. Some of the photographs here are his contributions. While walking down the jungle path we saw a sort of melee at a distance, for some one had thrown a pebble at a beehive and the bees in turn attacked a group. They ran for their lives while we stayed back for about 15 minutes.  When the bees seemed to be at peace we continued and reached the parking place. We drove out and reached Coimbatore after visiting an Emu farm en route.