Working Lives India: Denim king
- 7 February 2014
- From the section Asia
Sanjay Lalbhai traces his family's involvement in the textile business back to the 19th Century, when Ahmedabad was known as "the Manchester of India".
His contribution to the family business was to bring it back from the brink of bankruptcy with the introduction of denim to India in the 1980s.
His company, Arvind Mills, is now India's largest denim manufacturer and one of the biggest jeans manufacturers in the world.
"Textiles is one of the first industries in a developing economy because it is labour-intensive, and where labour is cheap it can be a good business," he says.
However, Mr Lalbhai is mindful of the shifting fortunes of the world economies in his plans.
"When wages reach $1,000 a month, that's when the textile business becomes uneconomic," he says, adding that India has about "10 or 15 years" before that happens.
"When it does, we will look at moving production to a country where labour is cheaper."
A key strategy for ensuring that Arvind Mills is not just dependent on cheap labour is to diversify.
One idea is a new retail clothing store that offers customers the chance to design their own shirts and suits from a vast range of fabrics and designs.
The company has also invested in making technical textiles, such as bulletproof materials and glass fibre for windmill blades and helicopter components, to keep ahead of competitors with cheaper labour rates.
As he takes breakfast in his beautiful garden outside Ahmedabad, surrounded by his wife, two sons and his grandchildren, he says that his family has a strong philanthropic tradition in the city, supporting schools and universities.
He says that the Jain religion he was born into explicitly requires its adherents to give up their worldly things as they get older.
"Jains believe that every year you should give up one worldly thing," his wife adds.
Sanjay's father, who still lives with them, now has only four sets of clothing to his name, she says. None of them is a pair of jeans.