PALATINE, Illinois — Jute, perhaps better known in the United States as burlap, is a humble yet promising fabric. Characterized by its coarse, dark brown threads, jute is among the most robust fabrics that natural fibers produce. Uses include reusable packaging, packing material or food storage. More than 50% of the world’s jute supply comes from the Indian textile industry. Manufacturing begins from farming jute plants to weaving threads together to form the fabric.
Most recently, the government of India issued “a mandate that all grains and 20% of sugar should be packed in jute sacks.” This mandate is a part of a series of legislation promoting the use of jute within Indian domestic manufacturing due to its low manufacturing costs and environmental benefits.
Jute may be instrumental in wage growth for the struggling Indian textile industry. While the Indian textile and apparel industry comprises 5% of the global share and account for 12% of total export earnings, worker salaries have faced disproportionate drops in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Textile manufacturers have faced a drop in demand from global brands, leading them to lay off or deny payment to India’s 12 million textile workers. The Indian textile industry may improve because of the opportunities that jute presents.
Numerous scientists point to jute as a solid choice as the world looks for alternatives to single-use plastic for food packaging. “A hectare of jute plants consumes about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide and releases 11 tonnes of oxygen,” dramatically reducing greenhouse gases. Jute production takes considerably less water and fertilizer than cotton, another of India’s main textile exports.
Furthermore, jute is biodegradable as it is woven from natural fibers. Plastic items can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to fully decompose while jute can decompose in one to two years. Jute scraps are also frequently used for composting in West Bengal, India, the location of most jute factories. Jute presents itself as a safe, simple alternative to plastic.
The global market for jute bags hit $2.07 billion as of 2020. It may grow to an estimated $3.1 billion by 2024. Partially fueled by greater awareness among consumers to search for alternatives to plastic, jute has also been growing in global popularity.
Local Indian designers such as Ashish Soni have regularly utilized jute in their clothing and accessory designs. Additionally, global figures, such as Meghan Markle, have further propelled the fabric. Christian Dior also used jute accessories in his latest runway show, piquing the interests of runway fashion designers. As the message of environmental awareness spreads further in fashion, jute may realize even more of its potential.
However, Indian textile industry leaders worry that factories may struggle to increase output. Almost “70 jute factories are in West Bengal.” However, most have not improved since the 19th century. Newer technology and management methods are absent, limiting the output of jute factories. Workers insist that with the right renovations and access to machines, jute will increase to match increasing demand. With total foreign direct investment in the Indian textile industry between 2000-2021 exceeding $3.5 billion, the future certainly looks bright for the invigoration of these factories.
Lives of Textile Workers
Textile and apparel industries are the second largest employer in India after agriculture. Numerous groups are responsible for weaving fabrics and sewing garments specific to ancestral and cultural traditions. Despite the havoc that COVID-19 wreaked on the livelihoods of Indian textile workers, the opportunities that jute presents to farmers, weavers and factory workers will lead to more significant revenue and greater salaries.
– Shruti Patankar