The Technical Textiles Market


The World Textile and Clothing trade rose by 4.4% in 2008 to US$612 billion. In response to global competitive challenges, the textile and clothing industry in the UK and Europe generally has undertaken a lengthy process of restructuring, modernisation and technological progress. Companies have improved their competitiveness by substantially reducing or ceasing mass production and simple fashion products, and concentrating instead on a wider variety of products with a higher value-added. The EU imports some 47% of total world production (US – 22%) with a resultant EU27 trade deficit of US$69 billion. During 2009 (first six months), exports from the EU dropped by some 17.9% and imports fell by 8.5%. In the last few months a weak pound sterling has led to a surge in demand for British fabrics. Moreover, UK and fellow European producers are world leaders in markets for technical/industrial textiles and non-wovens (for example industrial filters, geotextiles, hygiene products, or products for the aerospace/automotive industries or the medical sector), as well as for high quality garments with a high design content such as performance sportswear. The current EU market for technical textiles is some 36 billion euros. Technical or industrial textiles are created specifically for their performance rather than their aesthetic appearance.

Competitiveness has also been retained by sub-contracting, or relocation of production facilities, for labour-intensive activities such as garment make-up to companies in countries with lower labour costs, mainly in the Euro-Mediterranean Zone. The competitive advantages of the textiles and clothing sector in the EU are now found in a focus on quality and design, innovation and technology, and high value-added products. The EU has 230,000 textile and clothing companies employing some 2.7 million people and representing some 200 billion euros. EU textile firms control 31% of the global high-end market and 11% of the mid market. The UK textiles and clothing sector was worth 10.2 billion pounds sterling in 2006 with 3.5 billion coming from technical textiles. Global technical textiles reached US$126 billion in 2007 but are growing four times faster than conventional textiles with the EU as a net exporter.

At the same time, globalisation and technological progress led to the need to rethink the textiles and clothing industry's clustering strategy. While still playing an important role for some activities, cooperation at local, district or regional level has increasingly proved inadequate to ensure that the chain of production remains at close geographical proximity to the European market with particular emphasis on supply chain management. Therefore, clustering of its much diversified activities is now also based on a wider geographical area, i.e. the Euro-Mediterranean Zone.

European products generally have a positive quality mark-up. Equally the EU industry has a leading role in the development of new products, such as technical textiles. These trends towards higher value-added products need to be continued and accelerated in order to strengthen and develop the textile and clothing sector competitiveness. Significant investments are being made in the emerging technical textile sectors in India, Korea, Brazil and China and further competition within the key EU and US markets will inevitably increase.

The EU textile and clothing sector is a SMEs based industry as companies of less of 50 employees account for more than 90% of the workforce and produce almost 60% of the value added.

In the EU-27 the biggest producers in T&C industry are the 5 most populated countries, i.e. Italy, France, UK and Germany, Spain accounting for about three quarters of EU-27 production of textiles and clothing. Southern countries such as Italy, Greece and Portugal, some of the new Member states such as Romania and Poland and, to a lesser extent, Spain and France contribute more to total clothing production, while northern countries such as the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden contribute relatively more to textile production. On average, the T/C sector plays a more important role in the economy and employment of the new Member States and candidate countries than in the EU-15.

Technical textiles for intelligent personal protective clothing and equipment or protective textiles in short, are clothing and other textile-based systems which protect users from hazards and dangers in the conditions in which they operate such as civil and military emergency interventions or in hospitals and manufacturing environments that require insulation from bacterial and viral contamination.

The current size of the Personal Protective clothing and equipment market in the EU is estimated at € 9.5-10 billion, with around 200,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to these products and services. The fast growth forecasted in certain parts of the world suggests that EU exports could grow by about 50% over the next 5-10 years.Among the issues of specific concern for protective textiles are swifter development and use of European standards in the global market, which combined with appropriate measures for the protection of intellectual property would accelerate the increase in demand for protective textiles. Public procurement has an important role to play with regard to protective textiles, representing 100% of the market for certain product groups. However, budgetary constraints of public entities often result in short-term price focused purchasing that sacrifices other, long-term criteria.The protective textiles lead market offers opportunities for the entire textile sector as spill-over effects from faster growing innovations in protective textiles to other market segments such as interior textiles or functional clothing would considerably increase the economic impact of the lead market, thus increasing the knowledge content and the added-value, contributing to a sustainable competitiveness of the entire textile sector.