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India's 'Denim King' passes away

August 04, 2007 17:24 IST

Arvind N Lalbhai may not have been the poster boy of the textile industry, but in a lot many ways he was truly one.

In the mid-1980s, when the textile industry was facing a major crisis - with powerlooms churning out vast quantities of inexpensive fabric, many large composite mills lost their markets.

But Arvind Mills saw its highest level of profitability at that time under the stewardship of Lalbhai. Lalbhai, who passed away on Friday at the age of 89, was managing director from January 1975 till November 2002.

During these years, he spearheaded the growth of the company from a manufacturer of high-quality fabrics to one of the foremost textiles companies with a dominant play even in the global textiles arena.

In 1987-88, Arvind entered the export market for two sections: denim for leisure and fashion wear and high quality fabric for cotton shirtings and trousers. By 1991, Arvind reached 1600 million meters of denim per year and it was the third largest producer of denim in the world.

His son Sanjay has taken this a step further, setting up world-scale garmenting facilities that offer a one-stop shop for such major international customers such as Marks & Spencer.

Today, Arvind is synonymous with brands such as Flying Machine, Newport and Ruf&Tuf in jeans and Excalibur in shirts, as well as reputed international names such as Arrow, Lee, Wrangler and Tommy Hilfiger, which the company retails in India.

Born on April 3, 1918, Arvind Lalbhai graduated in science from Bombay University and joined Asoka Mills. He became chairman of Asoka and was in that post for three decades. He was on the boards of several other textile mills and some companies producing dyes and chemicals, engineering, glass, paper and rubber.

He also served on the boards of the State Bank of India, Gujarat Financial Corporation, Gujarat State Warehousing Corporation Ltd, and several other textile and business associations, including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in 1981-82.

An esteemed industrialist, Lalbhai was a keen philanthropist and social worker. He was involved in several educational initiatives, worked with the blind and took much interest in rural development, particularly in Laxmipura village and adjoining villages in Gujarat's Sabarkantha district.
BS Reporter in Ahmedabad