Bangladesh is now in a transition of 100% cotton products to cotton-synthetic blends and other regenerated fibers as the leading spinning factories are reshaping them to align with the world demand. After the pandemic, there has been a paradigm shift in the spinning industry to diversify the products from the root which is inexorably intertwined with the success of our whole textile sector.
To understand the present condition of spinning, the upcoming yarn trends and the silver linings with the investment and expansions of the spinning industries, we have interviewed Enamul Karim, Executive Director, Spinning Operation, Noman Group.
This veteran with more than 21 years of experience in the arena of spinning and spinning technology, has opened up a wealth of industry insider aspects in the spinning arena which can be a food for thought and inspiration for the spinners and all associated with spinning.
What are the sources of cotton fiber for Bangladesh spinning industry? Can you share with us the grading procedure and the parameters you consider while cotton grading?
At present, the prime sources of cotton for Bangladesh spinning industry are mostly West Africa, Brazil, USA, India and Australia. For woven industry, we also eye on Egyptian cotton and Australian Pima cotton. In Bangladesh, mainly medium staple fibers are used. Long staples come from Egypt which are mainly used in some woven factories.
When we grade cotton, we appraise fiber length, strength, micronaire value, trash, uniformity, color grade, etc. We have a presumption about the trash percentage of cotton from each source country which helps us to decide on country selection. While contacting with the selected suppliers, we mainly consider the following three parameters- micronaire, length and color grade.
Many also give priority to strength as a fourth parameter based on the end use of the fiber. For knit industry, we give priority to micronaire and color. For woven, we add strength as a priority parameter because of its importance in weaving.
Recently we have witnessed that BTMA President has requested US and Brazil Ambassadors to press their governments to increase cotton export to Bangladesh. According to quality perspective, how are you considering US and Brazilian cotton?
Actually US cotton consumption was not much in Bangladesh because of the higher price. But recently after the pandemic, we can see a sudden upsurge of US buyers placing orders in Bangladesh which is opening up new requirements.
When we compare US cotton with others, we see that the fiber is much matured, color grade is good and the trash percentage is minimal. US cotton’s contamination is almost zero which plays a vital role in the quality of fabrics and garments.
Dye pick up rate is wonderful. US cotton yarn is more lustrous. Moreover, the micronaire range is very close which is very important for knit fabric manufacturing.
US cotton is 100% traceable. Buyers are now encouraging traceability where US cotton gives complete support.
Similarly Brazilian cotton is machine picked and traceable like US cotton. World’s most of the BCI cotton is produced in Brazil. Though Brazilian cotton’s short fiber percentage is quite more, it is in the tolerable range. Its color grade is good, bale to bale color variation is less and micronaire value is also in lower range which is necessary for knit industry. The contamination level is not zero but very less than cotton coming from West Africa, India, etc. sources.
BTMA President, being a spinning and garments factory owner himself, certainly has a good grasp on cotton and considering the advantages of US and Brazilian cotton, he has requested the Ambassadors to increase export of their cotton to Bangladesh.
Considering everything, if the consumption of US and Brazilian cotton increases in Bangladesh, it will be undoubtedly better for the spinning, knitting and dyeing factories.
Does the price of US and Brazilian cotton vary from other sources?
While calculating, rather than only focusing on the procurement price, we should also consider our end product’s quality. The cost for decontaminating a highly contaminated cotton, higher fabric rejections ultimately ends up as wastage and higher cost. Though the price of US and Brazilian cotton can be 5-6 and 1 cent per pound more respectively than the others, the less rejection for yarn performance, better quality fabric, dye pick up, less trash percentage can save a lot of money from the upstream.
Would you please tell us the objectives of fiber mixing?
We, the spinners and the spinning factory associates, do mixing based on the yarn price. 65-75% of our total production is raw material which demands thoughtful decisions while selecting them. If we mix with expensive raw materials, and the yarn price is less, then definitely we will be in loss. In our factories, we blend three-four types of fibers and by doing this the average cost decreases, yarn realization and spinning productivity becomes better. Altogether the manufacturing cost becomes optimum and we can make more profit.
While mixing, we are using fibers from different sources. In that case, can we maintain the color grade?
We do the bale management beforehand. For example, we are doing a mixing for 40 bales. Suppose we decided on using 40% US, 20% Indian, and 20% West African cotton. The three varieties will be of same amount on the whole production plan according to the same bale management. We use US cotton’s average micronaire, color grade, length in the similar way we are using other cottons in the mix, so that similar quality yarn can be produced.
When I started job in 2000, I saw that only one kind of cotton was used. The reasons behind this can be the lack of expertise, higher yarn price than the cotton price; the market was not that much competitive; but now we are bound to use different origins of cottons to reduce the mixing cost and keep the quality of the end product intact.
With cotton which natural fibers do we blend in Bangladeshi spinning industry? What are the recent developments?
The production of yarn using different natural fibers other than cotton depends on the forward process requirements. In our industry, the demand of linen is increasing, for which we use flax fiber. Every year, we produce linen yarns of different blends of around 1000-1200 metric ton.
We cannot produce 100% linen because majority of us do not have such set-up and expertise. The cottonized flax, also known as linen has a gradually growing requirement for which we are mostly import driven. So, I think there is a bright future in manufacturing linen which has a good profit margin.
Hemp, another fiber close to linen, has a lot of utilities in the home textiles of Bangladesh. We already have bulk produced this and plan to extensively produce in future for its growing trend. We have started using hemp 6 years ago and every year it has a growth of almost 100% which indicates its lucrative future. If the spinning industries grab this opportunity, I think it will be a great deal for Bangladesh.
We are also performing research and development with jute, the golden fiber of Bangladesh. It is close to hemp and flax but its micronaire value is very high. For minimizing it, we are doing myriads of researches. Already we have developed a lot of yarns and fabrics and we hope to continue this endeavor. We are also working with banana fiber.
In Bangladesh, a good amount of banana fiber is being produced from which myriads of products are being made. But the technology of blending them with cotton to produce yarn has yet to be explored.
Another natural fiber called Agraloop, made from waste paddy, banana fiber blend, is also in our research and development process. This has become many buyers’ requirement as all are demanding natural, sustainable products.
Day by day such natural fiber consumption will increase and we need to come forward with research and development to grab the lucrative opportunities.
What types of synthetic fibers are blended with cotton in Bangladeshi spinning industry?
We are mostly blending Polyester with cotton for a long time. Acrylic, wool spinning is also available in Bangladesh but such blends are really scarce. Though requirement is high, especially in sweater industry, we have not seen much development in such spinning.
Nylon-cotton blend is also being manufactured. For nylon’s intrinsic characteristics, we can make better stretch fabrics which promises a bright future.
There are myriads of blends of polyesters where recycled polyester is noteworthy and has gradual increase in demand. Our factory experience with recycled polyester since the last four years indicates its tremendous growth which is getting double each year.
There exists a factory named Maliha Poly Tex Fiber Industry Ltd. which had 50 tons/day production till September and now it has been increased to around 75 tons/day. Such kind of factories will emerge in Bangladesh day by day as we are eyeing on the recycled polyester more than their virgin counterparts.
If we can produce different kinds of synthetic and cotton blended yarns, there is a silver lining for all the spinners.
While mixing synthetic fiber with natural, what kind of challenges do you face in the different stages of operation?
Polyster fiber blending is quite easy for our years of experience. Compared to Polyester, Nylon fiber is a bit different for its high elongation. For that, we need to have a different arrangement in the machine settings, equipment, especially in carding machine. We also need to adjust the settings and gauging in every process to run the show. Though these are some challenges, it is not so difficult to overcome as we already have developed expertise on these.
In the spinning industry, the trend of investment increased in the last few years. Do you have any investment and expansion plan for Talha Spinning Mills Ltd.?
We know that 80-85% of knit yarn required in Bangladesh garments industry, is indigenously manufactured. But for woven industry, only 20% is manufactured at home which indicates a huge shortage. In case of synthetic yarn, the production is very less if not none where we need to import a huge amount from India, China, Indonesia and Vietnam. So, I think, to strengthen the backward linkage, we need a lot of spinning factories in our country. And for that, number of spindles is increasing every year.
For Noman Group’s Talha Spinning Mills Ltd., we already have run a project of 66,000 spindles in 2018. Now we have another plan of around 90,000 spindles and 2,520 spindles for rotor unit. We are optimistic that the project will be up and running from next year’s October-November, adding more than 100 tons production capacity in the factory.
We also have started a synthetic spinning arrangement named Nice Synthetic which has 60 tons/day capacity where another 60 tons/day capacity will be expanded. We call it FDY (Fully Drawn Yarn) and its requirement in Bangladesh is huge.
In apparel business, Bangladesh is morphing from one stage to another, how can our spinning sector contribute to this transformation?
The investors in spinning industry should study the kinds of yarn consumed and fabric ordered by the buyers. We have to come out of sole cotton dependency to viscose, lyocell, modal and synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, acrylic and their blends with cotton. We know that the worldwide consumption of cotton is only 25-26% and other fibers is 74-75%. So, if we can create such factories coming out of 100% cotton, our contribution towards the apparel industry will be more significant.
Now we have 14-15 million spindle in Bangladesh. I think if it becomes double, it will be great for the total textile export of Bangladesh.
We will have to move more towards synthetic fibers at the same time we will have to keep producing the regenerated cellulosic fibers like viscose, lyocell, tencel, etc. Last year we have used 7.5-8,000 metric ton viscose, lyocell in Bangladesh and its use is increasing by 40-50% every year. Our product varieties is going beyond 100% cotton. For example, in our factory, for the last two years around 3 lakh spindles have been run with synthetic and regenerated cellulose blended yarns. Already almost all of our spinning is converted to produce blended yarns.
There is also a huge requirement of core-spun yarn which is used for producing woven apparel and denim. Our factory has 70,000 spindles for core-spun yarn and in the next season, we are planning to expand 30,000 spindles. Now not only everyone is demanding stretch fabric for the bottom but also for tops. According to the requirements, we will have to bring change in spinning. We need to divert and adapt according to the needs of the value-added end products.
We know that yarn price is increasing day by day. In that case, how do you evaluate the concept of making a central bonded warehouse under the supervision of the government to keep a steady price of the raw materials for a longer period?
If six months’ equivalent of cotton can be imported and stored centrally in a warehouse supervised by the government, it will be tremendously beneficial for the Bangladesh garment sector and the price can be kept steady.
Moreover, we have seen for the last three months that BTMA, BKMEA and BGMEA have done meetings to fix yarn price according to the cotton price which is a very good initiative. Such initiatives are celebrated and should be continued. These three associations should unitedly take firm steps to negotiate the price of yarn which will be beneficial for the whole industry.