Textiles and clothing is a diverse sector that plays an important role in the European manufacturing industry, employing 1.7 million people and producing a turnover of EUR 166 billion. The sector has undergone radical change recently to maintain its competitiveness by moving towards high value-added products.
The textile and clothing industry covers a range of activities from the transformation of natural (cotton, flax, wool, etc.) or synthetic (polyester, polyamide, etc.) fibres into yarns and fabrics, to the production of a wide variety of products such as hi-tech synthetic yarns, bed-linens, industrial filters, and clothing.
The industry comprises:
Although some textile and clothing companies have set up their own distribution networks as part of their vertical integration strategy, the manufacturing and distribution sectors remain very different in their characteristics. They should therefore be treated separately.
The textile and clothing sector is an important part of the European manufacturing industry, playing a crucial role in the economy and social well-being in many regions of Europe. According to data from 2013, there were 185 000 companies in the industry employing 1.7 million people and generating a turnover of EUR 166 billion. The sector accounts for a 3% share of value added and a 6% share of employment in total manufacturing in Europe.
The sector in the EU is based around small businesses. Companies with less than 50 employees account for more than 90% of the workforce and produce almost 60% of the value added.
The biggest producers in the industry are the five most populous EU countries: Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain. Together, they account for about three quarters of EU production.
Southern countries such as Italy, Greece, and Portugal; some of the new EU countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland; and, to a lesser extent, Spain and France, contribute more to total clothing production. On the other hand, northern countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden contribute more to textile production, notably technical textiles.
With regards to external trade performance, about 20% of EU production is sold outside the EU despite limited access to many non-EU markets.
The sector has been subject to a series of radical transformations over recent decades, due to a combination of technological changes, the evolution of production costs, the emergence of important international competitors, and the elimination of imports quotas after 2004.
Companies have improved their competitiveness by reducing or ceasing the mass production of simple products, and concentrating instead on a wider variety of products with higher value-added.
European producers are world leaders in markets for technical/industrial textiles and non-wovens (industrial filters, hygiene products, products for the automotive and medical sectors, etc.), as well as for high-quality garments with a high design content.
The trend towards higher value-added products needs to be continued in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the textile and clothing sector.
Competitiveness has also been retained by sub-contracting or relocating production facilities for labour-intensive activities, such as garment make-up, to companies in countries with lower labour costs, notably in the Euro-Mediterranean area.
Globalisation and technological progress has also led to a rethink in the textiles and clothing industry's clustering strategy. While 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 diversified activities is now also based on a wider geographical area, i.e. the Pan Euro-Mediterranean area. As a consequence, world leaders are EU brands. This is also true for high-end brands.
The CIRCABC database (the Commission’s Communication and Information Resource Centre for Administrations, Businesses and Citizens) has detailed production and trade data on the textile and clothing industry in the EU.