An economic recession may be looming around the corner and that’s no secret to anyone. The economy has slowed down, the rupee has been devalued, buying power has decreased and the rate of inflation has increased. Something to ponder over is that our textile industry contributes 57 per cent of total export volumes, 8.5 per cent of the GDP of Pakistan and the annual export figure closed last fiscal year at 25 billion dollars out of which 13.53 billion dollars was from textiles.
And what is the most successful textile in Pakistan in terms of volumes consumed locally? It’s the one that’s given birth to a fifth season in the country, where it’s summer almost nine months of the year.
Overtime, lawn has gotten a bad name because of the way "lawn wars" grip the country and how new designs are short-lived because they are copied within months and sold by others at cheaper rates.
In Pakistan, yearly brands compete with great furor and fashion enthusiasts get peeved over the energy spent in trying to reinvent the wheel. The truth however is that lawn is a specialized Pakistani product and is not produced like this anywhere else. If China is recognized for its silk, Pakistan is known in the world for its print-based lawns. Given its immense popularity, one wonders if the Pakistani lawn fabric could be repackaged and developed as a major export item on the back of its strong domestic consumption?
Given the disposable nature of most summer lawns, especially for urban women who buy the designer variety, the production of lawn can be used as an engine of growth for Pakistani textiles internationally akin to what Japan did with electronics to spur its economic establishment. Exporting this popular product, textile manufacturers can also grow markets for their other products.
How the lawn fabric can be developed as a major export depends on mainly repositioning it in the global market. First of all, lawn should be established for what it is, an exclusively Pakistani product. Pakistani lawns should be promoted in international trade and major players in the market and the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) should contribute to a research and development fund being set up to look into consumer tastes.
Both the raw product of unstitched material as well as the value added product of stitched material should be made to be exported. If designer-lawn collaborations could switch from merely designing print to also designing silhouettes for lawn, they could easily be sold abroad as ready to wear. We’ve already seen printed kurtas, ala Sana Safinaz’s IT Girls soirees, being taken abroad and worn with western outfits but making the finished product more universal may be in everyone’s benefit.
Another factor imperative in exporting lawn is ensuring that it remains price competitive in the global market. The advisor to APTMA Shahid Sattar told The News, "One can’t export it if the cost is higher than other countries because the cost of doing business is higher in Pakistan at the moment. Yarn, the raw material for lawn is imported so the final pricing depends on import duties as well."
The government needs to revise the policies if we are to make this particular product shine in the global arena.
Trade fairs and exhibitions showcasing the fabric must be organized in targeted countries which have potential in terms of sales. It would also be a great help to the industry if summer fabrics in other parts of the world are looked into, for which the lawn can be substituted.
Since it is fine cotton-based material, which is sleek, absorbent and easy to carry, it would do well in tropical countries where it’s hot year round. Exploring these markets for exports will ensure continuous economic activity for lawn manufacturers in Pakistan whose products are, at present, merely a summer attraction.
These measures will augment the government’s ability in narrowing down its trade deficit. The so-called lawn wars capturing domestic markets can hence be channeled as an effective means of earning foreign exchange; which Pakistan desperately needs to balance its import bill, especially with regards to oil and other energy related products. The government with its new budget has also decided that export of goods to Afghanistan and Central Asian states will be with zero duty so these places can be explored as well.
One place where there is no need to create a market for lawn as it already exists is India. The country has a shared culture and knowledge about our local lawn. It cannot reach India through official channels due to trade complications but this does not mean that Pakistani lawn does not reach India. Many who come here go back with loads of lawn designs and it also enters India via other countries. While trade with the neighbour is entirely dependent on socio-political factors, what the textile industry can do meanwhile is to make the product more global.
The production of value added lawn is the need of now – through innovation, modernization, diversification and maintaining the quality of products at international standards. The industrial exports growth will not happen in short term, it requires strategic decision of buyers which is a gradual process and needs commitment both from government and exporters to keep costs low. Currently, the overseas sales of lawn contribute a small portion for textile companies owing to their limited access to prospective customers… but this can change.
In a nutshell, if the policies are played right, Pakistan lawn exports could change its reputation.