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Textiles and clothing

The EU-27 textiles and clothing industry

Study on the European textiles and clothing industry

At the initiative of the European Parliament the European Commission commissioned an in-depth assessment of the situation of the textiles and clothing sector in the European Union and prospects for its future development.

The study consists of seven reports: one survey, five reports on areas of competitiveness and a synthesis report.

Synthesis report for the European textile and clothing sector pdf - 977 KB [977 KB]

Survey on the situation of the European textile and clothing sector pdf - 13 MB [13 MB]

Assessment of the way specialised research and innovation centres liaise with textile/clothing enterprises pdf - 3 MB [3 MB]

Assessment of main difficulties faced by textile/clothing SMEs pdf - 3 MB [3 MB]

Assessment of past or on-going restructuring and modernisation processes in textile/clothing enterprises  pdf - 3 MB [3 MB]

Assess of training to textile and clothing workers  pdf - 2 MB [2 MB]

Assessment of the evolution of research and innovation practices pdf - 2 MB [2 MB]   

Characteristics of the textile and clothing sector

The textile and clothing (T&C) industry comprises:

  • the treatment of raw materials, i.e. the preparation or production of various textiles fibres, and/or the manufacture of yarns (e.g. through spinning).
    • "Natural" fibres include cotton, wool, silk, flax, jute, etc.
    • "Man-made" fibres include fibres coming from transformation of natural polymers (cellulosic fibres e.g. viscose, acetate, modal, etc.), synthetic fibres (i.e. organic fibres based on petrochemicals, such as polyester, nylon/polyamide, acrylic, polypropylene, etc), and fibres from inorganic materials (e.g. glass, metal, carbon or ceramic).

In relation to textile materials, the terms "man-made", "synthetic" and "artificial" fibres are often used interchangeably. According to the manufacturing processes used, "synthetic" fibres are those gained through polymerization of organic monomers, while "artificial" fibres are obtained through chemical transformation of natural organic polymers.

  • the production of knitted and woven fabrics (i.e. knitting and weaving);
  • finishing activities - aimed at giving fabrics the visual, physical and aesthetic properties which consumers demand - such as bleaching, printing, dyeing, impregnating, coating, plasticising, etc;
  • the transformation of those fabrics into products such as:
    • garments, knitted or woven (= the so-called "clothing" industry);
    • carpets and other textile floor covering;
    • home textiles (such as bed linen, table linen, toilet linen, kitchen linen, curtains, etc);
    • technical or 'industrial' textiles.

The distribution sector constitutes the last element of the so-called "textile and clothing chain" and is therefore important for all T&C products which are sold to the final consumer. Although some T&C companies have set up their own distribution networks in the framework of their vertical integration strategy, the manufacturing and distribution sectors remain very different in their characteristics and nature, and should therefore be treated separately.

In terms of tariff and statistical nomenclature the sector comprises products included in Chapters 50-63 Commission regulation (EC) N° 1549/2006 of 17 October 2006 (OJ L 301 of 31 October 2006) pdf български (bg) czech (cs) dansk (da) Deutsch (de) eesti (et) ελληνικά (el) español (es) Français (fr) Gaeilge (ga) hrvatski (hr) italiano (it) latviešu (lv) lietuvių (lt) magyar (hu) Malti (mt) Nederlands (nl) polski (pl) português (pt) română (ro) slovenčina (sk) slovenščina (sl) suomi (fi) svenska (sv) [4 MB] .

Economic and social importance of the textile and clothing sector

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.

As regards the textiles and clothing external trade performance, about 20% of EU-27 production in value is sold on the external market despite limited access to many third country markets. However, remain significant impediments to trade in textiles and clothing, especially in some of the largest and more competitive exporters in the sector, and the European industry has the potential to increase production and exports to those parts of the world when trade barriers lifted. By comparison with manufacturing as a whole, it is worth noting that external markets are of higher importance for the textiles and clothing industry.

More details on the structure and competitiveness of the T&C sector can be found in the Commission Working Paper of October 2003 "Economic and Competitiveness Analysis of the European Textile and Clothing Sector pdf - 364 KB [364 KB] [363 KB] " and in the report "Textile and clothing industry in the EU: A survey" of July 2001, Enterprise Paper N° 2-2001.

In October 2005, the Commission reported to Member States on the follow-up of the recommendations of the High Level Group (HLG) that was composed by all stakeholders of the sector, in its Communication of 13 October 2004 "Textiles and clothing after 2005 - recommendations of the High Level Group for textiles and clothing".

A new report of this HLG was published in September 2006 (2nd Report of the High Level Group of 18 September 2006 pdf - 469 KB [469 KB] ).

The textile and clothing sector in Europe has been subject to a series of radical transformations over the last years, due to a combination of technological changes, evolution of production costs, the emergence of important international competitors and the elimination of imports quotas after 2004.

In response to competitive challenges, the textile and clothing industry in Europe 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. Moreover, 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 automotive industry or the medical sector), as well as for high quality garments with a high design content.

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.

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. 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.

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