Batik is not a very difficult art form, but a painstakingly slow one. Entirely done by hand, it often is a skill handed down from generation to generation. In today’s industrial age, it is not often that one meets a commercial business solely devoted to specialising in this technique. Batik India is one such rare manufacturer, single-handedly keeping the art alive.
We recently met with the youngest member of the family-run business to learn more about the technique and their business.
When and how did Batik India start?
It all started 30 years ago by my grandfather. He was an ambitious guy who knew two things – one, he wanted to run a business and second, he wanted to do something in Batik print, as he was working in a Batik factory. That’s how Batik India was born.
Do you know of any challenges your grandfather might have faced during the initial period of its setup?
I’ve heard a lot of stories about yesteryears. Their challenges were completely different from ours. The first challenge was to set-up the factory. It was located in Kranti Nagar and investment was obviously an issue. Setting up a factory requires a lot of finances and time.
Then we came here at Ghaziabad. It was a jungle – a barren land at that time. My grandfather had to bring labour along with him in cars and auto rickshaw, get the work done and then drop them back.
So, according to me, this was a huge risk and a challenge back then. Nevertheless, he took the plunge and just started.
Tell us about your background and role in Batik India.
Immediately after my high school, I pursued a diploma in designing from Pearl Academy, Noida. My family wanted me to take lead and get hands-on experience in the business world. So, I’ve been working here ever since.
Currently, I’m pursuing English honours through an open school.
My role is to take over the business. I’m the 3rd generation. That is pretty much there is to my role at the moment.
It would be four times as hard as it was earlier. You bring a hurdle and people find a way to go around it.
If your grandfather had set-up his business right now as compared to 30 years back, what challenges do you think he would have faced?
As mentioned earlier, the challenges were different as compared to today. It would be four times as hard as it was earlier. Earlier, people were satisfied with government jobs and hardly anyone wanted to start their own business. Now every second person has their own idea.
Earlier, governmental regulations were so lenient. Now, you have to take so many permits and account for conversion rates as well.
For example, you cannot have a permit without a proper sewage system if you have a dyeing facility like us.
Today, nobody goes by the book. If you think that digitalization has made things easier, it hasn’t. You bring a hurdle and people find a way to go around it.
What is your unique selling point and how do you deal with competition?
Batik Print is an art which involves dye-resistant wax being applied on the cloth. After the whole cloth has been dyed, the parts where the wax had been applied, resist the colour and that is how we are able to get variety with just one print.
Now, there are more people in the market doing batik print than before.
But, what we have and they don’t is expertise in quality. We give quality in terms of stitching, embroidery, dyeing, quality control and print. Everything happens in-house so it is naturally controlled and looked after.
If we are giving so much, we will charge a premium for it. When you are giving quality to a customer, there is a loss that the company has to bear – which is – time.
When there is so much of production, errors are inevitable. That loss we have to bear.
Is there any support from your government in terms of learning or finances?
Whoever wants to do anything, they will do it. Nobody would sit and wait for the government or anyone for that matter. People have created niches for themselves on their own.
Even as manufacturers, if we come up with an idea for growth, where should we go and who should we tell? Government is a huge entity.
It’s not that the government isn’t doing anything. The ministry has been set and bodies have been formed that hold exhibitions and trade fairs like the IIGF – India International Garment Fair. We have international, domestic and couture exhibitions.
When GST (Goods and Services Tax) was implemented, the drawback (rebate) had been reduced. People were very upset. They had to increase their prices. Shanti Mohalla (huge fabric market in Delhi), had closed their shutters for weeks. They demanded the withdrawal of GST.
One person cannot bring change for everyone. Government is already doing a lot but, the rest is up to us.
Since there are so many permutations possible with Batik, buyers are not very picky about designs. We have a design that has been in the running for over 5 years now. Clients can’t get over it.
Can you share the order journey from receiving the order to fulfilling it?
Order confirmation and sampling
After we get an order from a client, if we have to create new designs for them, pre-production sample is created. After receiving the confirmation, production sample is created and the spec pack is formed. But this rarely happens with us.
We have a design that has been in the running for over 5 years now. We call it ‘The Lady Patch dress’ and clients can’t get over it. Like this, we have several other designs and patterns that do not seem to get old. We have so many blocks so many permutations and designs are possible. Buyers let us know their colour preference and maybe a few things like if they don’t want crowded design etc.
For 50,000 MOQ (Minimum Quantity Order), they don’t pick on each design.
After the final confirmation, we give them a delivery time. (For 100 pieces it’s usually 30 days)
Designing and Printing
Then, the layer is cut and printing starts. If it is two-part stitching then first it gets stitched, printed, dyed and embroidered.
Then it gets stitched again. E.g. seems to be made.
In winters our production is slow because pieces take more time to dry. They are dried naturally.
Quality Control and packaging
The air-dried garments come to the packaging department where they are checked and packed in sacks or boxes. Lastly, labels are added if required.
We have one buyer whose office is in India as well (liaison office). We ship to India office and then they ship it to their buyer themselves.
What are some of the qualities of Batik Print and where do your majority of demand comes from?
Since its heat-printed, Batik print can only be done on natural fabric like rayon, crepe and viscose. It will burn if it’s performed on a polymer.
We have different densities of natural fabric in our factory – 120s, 155s, 160s, etc. Since heat and wax are applied, it coincides with summer fabrics.
Our customers mostly come from USA, Brazil and Argentina. As you can see, these are coastal areas where Batik print is famous and worn quite often.
What are the buying habits of your clients? Do you see a trend or it is specific to their customers’ tastes?
When a buyer visits us, we show them our sampling unit wherein all our designs from the past 30 years up till now, are there. They pick any design they like, according to their market taste and demand. The trend is not in the types of garments they pick but, the ease with which they pick them.
Meaning, they are not very picky when it comes to designs. We have some buyers that are regular. You’d be surprised to know that for most of our orders, buyers don’t even visit our place. They place running orders with slight tweaks. Such is the level of trust in us.
If it is 1000 pieces then we usually go by our criteria of 4 colours per style. Mostly we do free size so there is even less room for error.
There is a trend of buying agencies in India. Are you associated with any? Why or why not?
We don’t work with them. But, we won’t mind working with them either.
We haven’t started working with them yet, for two reasons.
Firstly, there might be trust issues with buying agents since we are not in direct relation to the buyer.
Secondly, we don’t work on credit. So, new buyers have to pay in advance.
Once we receive the advance, we will start the production, once we get the full payment, we ship it. Buying agents often work on credit.
How is Batik Print done – the video
What do you think about sustainable fashion and its importance to manufacturers?
For me, Sustainable fashion is a term that only designers can use.
We don’t do a lot of wastage in any case. It would ultimately be our loss if we waste our fabric.
You wouldn’t believe the time we spend to discuss which pattern will give us the least wastage. If the average is less then cost is less and ultimately, the profit margin would increase. Furthermore, we are in an industrial area where regular checks from inspectors are pretty common.
These terms are more suitable and concerned for designers as they don’t care about wastage etc. They want to create unique designs as quickly as possible.
There should be a focus on business in the fashion curriculum. If you don’t take care of where your money is going to, you are in for a ride.
What tips will you give to young graduates who are confused about having to set-up their own business vs. studying further?
First 6 months when I joined the factory, I used to sit like an idiot because I had no work. I would go home crying since nobody gave me any work. My father would say, “We have such a big factory. Sit anywhere you want and I bet you there would be some or the other work there”. I did just that. Now, even if my father is out for work for weeks, I’m handling the business.
So, you need the patience to run a business. If you don’t have that then you can’t.
Choosing between higher studies or running a business, I wouldn’t be the right person to advise on this since business runs in my blood.
All I can say is that don’t think about the end-goal. Have short-term goals. Planning for them is more efficient and more successful than long-term goals. The latter one, you need to know and that’s it.
There is so much that goes into running a business. You need land then machines, labour to run that machine, registration for land and company, trademark and then, marketing.
What I strongly feel though, there should be a focus on business in the fashion curriculum. They don’t teach you how to spend money.
In my college as well, kids used to spend money without giving a second thought to it. They spent thousands on a project. If you don’t take care of where your money is going to, you are in for a ride.
If you want to work in wholesale then work in export houses for a while, take a crash course or an online course on business basics and then only step into this world.
What tips will you give to buyers who want to work with Indian fashion manufacturers?
One major stereotype is that Indian sellers are not trustworthy. One thing I’d like to tell buyers is – when you come here, come with an intention to buy. If you genuinely want to buy, then only approach us. Else, both the parties will get irritated.
All buyers think that we need them more than they need us so, they think that they would get credit. Credit is based on trust which I can’t have if I’ve just met you.
Your intention should be clear.
If you are unsure about any factory then ask around, look up on websites such as Fashion Insiders. We tried Indiamart for a while but gave up. It is messy and for a buyer sitting elsewhere, the first impression is everything.