Generic advertising for fabrics seems to be coming of age. First it was the advertising campaign for "linen" (featuring fashion designer Rohit Bal) followed by striking print ads for "cotton". Soon you will see another natural fabric pushing itself through advertising and other marketing initiatives.
The Bangalore-based Silk Mark Organisation of India has launched the silk mark scheme, which is sponsored by the Central Silk Board under the Ministry of Textiles.
Besides promoting the fabric, the silk mark logo will also act as a stamp of "purity" and quality. "It is a confidence building measure primarily aimed at the consumers," says Joy Oommen, chairman, SMOI.
Clearly, the natural fibre manufacturers are getting their act together, though wool has been promoting its cause for decades and has already established the "woolmark" logo.
Says S K Chaudhuri, director (India and South-east Asia), The Woolmark Company: "Consumers are willing to pay extra if they are assured of the purity of the product. These logos are signs of assurance."
The primary reason behind hallmarking natural fibres such as cotton, linen, silk and wool is the competition they face from man-made fibres such as the range of polyester blends, nylon, acrylic and rayon.
Easy maintenance, wider colour palette and lower price points are the main drivers in consumers preferring man-made fibres to natural ones. In 2001, the demand for polyester outstripped the demand for cotton in the international market and the trend appears to be continuing.
"In India, however, cotton continues to be the dominating fibre. We have launched the Cotton Gold Alliance-promoted 'seal of cotton' as a pro-active defence step," says Harminder P Sahni, principal and associate director, KSA Technopak, the agents for the international alliance in India.
The alliance is co-sponsored by Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Council International, two global non-profit organisations that promote cotton across the world.
The "marks" are promoted by manufacturers, retailers and exporters. Silk mark, for instance, has close to 100 licencees who can use the "mark" on their products.
Cotton Alliance has roped in some of the leading brands such as Arrow, Lee, Wrangler, Louis Philippe, Van Heusen, Indigo Nation and Scullers among others. Woolmark has close to 200 licencees across the country.
For Woolmark, the licence fee ranges from $1,000 to $6,000 a year, while for using the seal of cotton emblem, a manufacturer has to pay in the region of $25,000 a year.
For linen, however, there is no licence fee as such because there is only one major player in the organised sector -- Indian Rayon. Silk mark logo comes with a Rs 2,000 annual fee and 50 paise for every hologram used on a product.
Print advertising is the preferred method of promoting fabrics. "We've used in-store branding. We're now looking at outdoor promotions," says Sahni.
There are plans to reach out to government agencies, cooperatives and cotton growers by the first quarter of next year. According to Sahni, Cotton World Alliance has earmarked a budget of close to $1 million to promote cotton in India.
Woolmark's Chaudhuri says that his company's logo has been established globally. "The woolmark logo is the fifth most recognised symbol in the world," he claims. "We now go for covert promotions such as putting our logo on products such as detergents," he adds.
Indian Rayon has a budget of Rs 3 crore a year to promote linen. The promotion, the company believes, has helped fuel demand and therefore production. Production of linen jumped from 36 lakh (3.6 million) metre in 2002-03 to 42 lakh (4.2 million) metre in 2003-04. Indian Rayon is looking at touching 100 lakh (10 million) metre by 2006-07.
Will hallmarking help push up sales of these fabrics? Most players believe so.
Sanjay Gupta, professor and chairperson (fashion and textiles), National Institute of Fashion & Technology puts the phenomenon in perspective: "These logos are quality standards. But the whole process has to be sustained; the credibility of the 'mark' has to be established. And this needs time, money and a lot of effort."Chaudhuri adds that merely establishing a "mark" will not help the industry. Promoters of "marks" need to push product innovation, technology exchange and market development. Only then will natural fibres become fibres of choice.