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Tiruppur is basically a traditional centre for cotton ginning. It's export boom began in the late 1980s, and the entire populace now depends on its viability as an export centre. Almost every household in the town undertakes some activity directly linked to the knitwear industry.

The industry works through a web of small to mid-sized units, with fabrication here, processing elsewhere and stitching somewhere else. The development of Tiruppur, one has heard so much of knit wear boom in the press over the past few years. Despite of some of its difficulties, the business culture in Tiruppur is appreciating. However, none of the explanations in the press have been able to explain why and how this little town in Tamil Nadu has come to be the centre of India's local banian and export cotton knitwear industry.  These networks of firms operate through job working, contracting and sourcing arrangements. The business families set up "sister concern" rather than large fully integrated factories.

There are many ways in which these ex-farmers came to the industry, worked in knitware firms and got to know the production close at hand and entered as small owners, often in family partnerships. The historical research on Tiruppur leads us back to the "thottams" or well irrigated farms around the town, as most of the industrialists of today have come from modest agricultural backgrounds. Though countless interviews about their lives and work, it has been realised that it was these modest farmers who have innovated in the organisation of the industry.  The uniqueness of Tiruppur's work culture has made it difficult for the big Indian textile giants to enter and capture a large market share, as the rules and norms governing manufacturing and job working are often informal and personalised.

In this new export-oriented world, time was of the essence, hence keeping the workers docile and obedient was key to ensuring that export deadlines were met. Facing international competition, employers also tried to slash their prices - and thus had to minimise costs. The female worker became their ideal worker, as she was required by local cultural norms to be both subservient and low-paid. Chari attributes this to upper-caste Tamil cultural notions about the male identity of the breadwinner. However, this flattering portrait of the globalising Gounders is moderated by Chari's simultaneous acknowledgement that `Gounder toil' is, after all, a legitimating ideology, a careful construct of Gounder self-presentation, purveyed by them in order to persuade their (male) workers that `toil' is the means by which any man, regardless of caste, can become an industrial boss.


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