State of the EU Textile and Apparel Industry (Updated April 2019)

EU region as a whole remains a leading producer of both textile and apparel. The value of EU’s T&A production totaled EUR142.9bn in 2017 (Statistical Classification of Economic Activities or NACE, sectors C13, and C14), which was divided almost equally between textile manufacturing (EUR77.4bn) and apparel manufacturing (EUR65.4bn).

Regarding textile production, Southern and Western EU where most developed EU members are located such as Germany, France, and Italy, accounted for nearly 80% of EU’s textile manufacturing in 2017. Further, of EU countries’ total textile output, the share of non-woven and other technical textile products (NACE sectors C1395 and C1396) has increased from 20.2% in 2011 to 23.2% in 2016, which reflects the on-going structural change of the sector.

Apparel manufacturing in EU includes two primary categories: one is the medium-priced products for consumption in the mass market, which are produced primarily by developing countries in Eastern and Southern Europe, such as Poland, Hungary, and Romania, where cheap labor is relatively abundant. The other category is the high-end luxury apparel produced by developed Western EU countries, such as Italy, UK, France, and Germany.

It is also interesting to note that in Western EU countries, labor only accounted for 21.1% of the total apparel production cost in 2016, which was substantially lower than 30.1% back in 2006. This change suggests that apparel manufacturing is becoming capital and technology-intensive in some developed Western EU countries–could be the result of increased investment in automation technology.

Because of their relatively high GDP per capita and size of the population, Germany, Italy, UK, France, and Spain accounted for 60.8% of total apparel retail sales in EU in 2017. The market structure remains stable overall.

Intra-region trade is an important feature of EU’s textile and apparel industry. Despite the increasing pressure from cost-competitive Asian suppliers, statistics from the World Trade Organization (WTO) show that of EU region’s total US$65.3bn textile imports in 2017, as much as 58.2% (or US$38bn) were in the category of intra-region trade. Similarly, of EU countries’ total US$166.4bn apparel imports in 2017, as much as 47.2% (or US$78.6bn) also came from other EU members. In comparison, close to 97% of apparel consumed in the United States are imported in 2017, of which more than 75% come from Asia (Eurostat, 2019; WTO, 2018).

by Sheng Lu

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

31 thoughts on “State of the EU Textile and Apparel Industry (Updated April 2019)”

  1. It’s very interesting to me that the EU region still remains a leading producer of both textile and apparel. Also, when looking at the graphs, in Western EU countries, labor only accounted for 21.1% of the total apparel production cost in 2016, which is much lower than what it was ten years before that. This change could be that apparel manufacturing is becoming capital and technology and could be the reason why automation technology has been flourishing and being much more invested. It’s amazing to know how much technology can do and help a country become so successful.

  2. How are the manufacturers in the EU able to compete price-wise with Asia or is that only a problem that the US has to deal with more often? The article states that apparel manufacturing for medium priced products is mostly in countries such as Romania, Hungary and Poland because of the cheap labor. Do these countries as well as the EU as a whole have a hard time competing with prices for these types of products or the cost of labor that is available Asia? Moving forward I am curious to see if Asia is going to take over the top spot for T&A manufacturing from the EU and also if Brexit is going to have any effect on this. I look forward to seeing more about this topic as time goes on and different trade agreements and world events unfold.

  3. As we have been learning in class, the best producers of textiles and apparel are well-developed countries. Because of this, it does not come to any surprise that the EU region as a whole remains a leading producer of both textile and apparel. It was interesting to see the chart of the breakdown of textile output in each European country, with Italy being almost double the revenue of the second place country of Germany. This textile production within these countries are still growing, with it increasing from 20.2% to 23.2% between 2011 and 2016. Apparel manufacturing on the other hand tends to happen in developing countries such as Poland and Romania because these countries have cheaper labor wages and this labor is abundant.

  4. This post as well as our discussion in class regarding the EU Textile and Apparel industry has really opened my eyes to the state of their industry. I find it very interesting that Western EU countries apparel output is so much higher than Eastern EU countries. I also find it very interesting that Germany is responsible for such a large portion of the EU textile output. The EU holds a strong and stable position in the textile and apparel industry. They are very focused on creating good quality and involving technology into production. I think U.S. apparel companies would really benefit from continuing to pair with EU textile and apparel manufacturers; especially since their textile industry is growing.

  5. With European region countries being mostly developed or developing, I found it interesting that both their textile and apparel production totals were very similar. After thinking about the size of the luxury apparel industry in Europe, this became much clearer as to why apparel manufacturing was so high. However, due to the high development level of European countries such as Germany, France, and Italy, Europe’s textile manufacturing production is higher. The developments in textile manufacturing in terms of technology and capital make more developed countries the most capable of producing textiles. The United States is a large producer of textiles and much less of apparel therefore, the U.S. imports its apparel from mostly Asia. I wonder if it weren’t for Europe’s strong luxury apparel industry, would they be in a similar standing to the U.S. in terms of apparel manufacturing?

  6. I found it very interesting that labor went from 30.1% to 21.1% of the total apparel production cost in 10 years. At my time here at UD, I have had many discussion of how technology is changing the fashion industry. This statement is truly evident through this statistic.

  7. When you take a look at the information on the graphs, you can see that Western EU labor only accounts for a fifth of apparel production costs from 2016. Which is a lot lower than what it was in the previous decade. This could connect with the fact that technology in our industry is growing heavily. Technology has been able to bridge a gap in the production process that hasn’t been able to be done before. In terms of comparison, I think that the U.S. and the EU are advancing far faster than other countries due to technology.

  8. Because Europe is made up of many different countries of varying economic standings, it makes sense to me that their apparel manufacturing industry is split up between medium-priced and high end luxury apparel. As western Europe is known for producing higher end apparel, it makes sense that their labor numbers are lower and sales are higher because these countries can afford more advanced technology to produce apparel and the population can afford to spend on luxury items. By looking at the environment of EU, macro environmental factors can be used to support and further explain the data between Western and Southern EU.

  9. I think it is very interesting to have learned about the status of the European Union’s textile and apparel sector, while having already learned about the United State’s to compare. It is evident in this blog post that both regions are moving in the same direction when it comes to less labor in their production and more technological advancements. The post stated that, “In Western EU countries, labor only accounted for 21.1% of the total apparel production cost in 2016, which was substantially lower than 30.1% back in 2006.” I wonder what the exact statistic of the United States is for this factor of production. These countries are all developed and can afford this automation and can even allow their retail prices to increase. It will be interesting to see how and when other regions of the world catch up to the state that the United States and the European Union are in with their textile and apparel sectors.

    1. I agree that it was interesting to learn about the EU’s textile and apparel industries after learning about the United States. Something that really surprised me was the difference between the amount the EU and the United States’ in terms of how much they import through intra-region trade and from countries outside the region. Lastly, I think it is especially interesting to see how automation effects capital intensive countries after learning about it in class.

  10. One thing that I found most interesting is the rise in labor going from 30.1% to 21.2% in 10 years. Learning about the status of the EU textile and apparel sector while also having knowledge on the US made it very interesting to compare the two!.

    1. This is interesting to note. As mentioned in other comments, this is likely because of the increase in automation and the overall advancement of technology across Westernized nations. People in these nations have a higher income and can spend money on luxury items. In addition, Western nations have a lower labor percentage because they are able to outsource production to less developed countries for a more cost – effective production method.

      1. I agree with your comment. Globally, automation has created a decrease in physical labor while keeping production rates up, so this could explain the drop in labor percentage in costs. Outsourcing is another notewrothy way decreased labor percentages could be explained that I did not think of. This is a good point.

    2. I agree that this statistic is very interesting! There could be a few contributors to this statistic such as automation or outsourcing. In class, we have discussed how automation can maintain or even increase production rates, while decreasing jobs or physical labor.

  11. I found it interesting that Europe’s gap between the number of textiles and apparel it manufactured was much smaller than the United States. It is interesting to see EU’s intra-region trade made up 58.2% of textile imports and 47.2% of apparel imports in 2017. The EU’s intra-region trade greatly contrasts the United States since the United States imports 97% of its apparel. In addition, I found it interesting that Italy produces the majority of the total value of apparel output since it is located in Western Europe, which specializes in high-end luxury apparel. I think there is a cultural difference in how clothing is viewed since the top brands in Europe are often high-end luxury brands whereas in the United States they are fast fashion companies. However, there are several fast fashion brands that originated in Europe (like Zara and H&M), so I wonder how much is made for their market compared to foreign markets.

  12. I am not surprised at the current advanced state of the Western European countries T&A manufacturing industries. The high-end luxury apparel market has deep roots in the developed countries of Italy, UK, France and Germany. Luxury fashion houses originated primarily in France and Italy, so these countries have had a long time to work on developing the market in terms of design and industrialization, which is contributing to the advanced automation capabilities in apparel manufacturing.

  13. Europe is definitely a unique player in the global textile & apparel industry – the countries in Europe are all so different that it makes perfect sense that the EU is able to be a lead textile and apparel producer. Almost all major luxury fashion companies and the haute couture houses started in Europe and have their headquarters there, so it’s no wonder that quality textiles and apparel are still made across the continent, a century later. The European fashion consumer also values quality more than American consumers, is more fashionable, sustainable, and tends to shop at luxury, high-end stores. However, there is an entire other side to European fashion – three major fast fashion companies started in Europe; Primark in Ireland, H&M in Sweden, and Inditex (Zara, Bershka, Pull & Bear) in Spain. These retailers have since moved around the globe and are as internationally famous as their luxury counterparts. I still believe there is a sense of luxury and innovation in Europe’s textile & apparel industry that keeps them leading the way. The videos we’ve seen and discussions we’ve had in class, as well as this article, clearly proclaim that Europe, while home to fast fashion’s Big Three, will continue to be a leader in high-quality apparel and textile manufacturing.

  14. The EU region is a leading producer of both textile and apparel, and it is noteworthy that in 2017, the EU’s output was almost equally split between he textile and apparel manufacturing sectors. It was not surprising to me to learn that EU countries such as Germany, France, and Italy were responsible for almost 80% of EU’s textile manufacturing as they are some of the most developed EU regions. We know that these countries are known for their luxury market, so it makes sense that production for high-end goods happens here. It was interesting to learn that less than 22% of apparel production cost in western EU countries was from labor, meaning the sector is becoming more technology and capital intensive. This could mean that the countries are becoming more automated, therefore physical labor is not needed as much as in previous years.

  15. The EU region is still a major producer of textiles and apparel. Garment manufacturing in the EU is becoming capital and technology, which may be the reason for the booming automation technology. I found that apparel production in EU countries in Western Europe is much higher than in Eastern Europe.
    The EU covers apparel and textiles in almost all areas. Developing countries in Eastern and Southern Europe produce medium-priced products that mainly produce mass-market consumption, such as the fast fashion brand Zara. The other is high-end luxury clothing produced by developed Western European countries, such as the luxury LOUIS VUITTON.

  16. Since we have previously learned about the countries with the largest and most efficient production, I am not surprised by the contents of this article stating that the EU is a remaining leader in producing textiles and apparel. I thought that it was helpful to see the breakdown of the chart to better put these numbers into perspective and it was interesting to learn exactly what countries in the EU are responsible for what.

  17. Based off of what that we have learned in class about more developed countries having leverage in the apparel production industry, it does not surprise me that the EU is still a leader. Especially based off of the flying geese model, it makes sense that the more developed countries in Europe have more access to technology and materials, therefore keeping them ahead of the rest. However what I do wonder is how they can compete with prices. The article states that EU only makes up of 21.1% of apparel production which is lower than it has been in the past. How are these percentages relative in terms to their standing- and what makes them considered a “leader?”

  18. I found it very interesting to learn that the EU is still the leading producer of T & A. Something that I learned, but was not surprised by, was that 80% of EU’s textile manufacturing in 2017 was accounted for by Southern and Western EU, such as Germany, France and Italy. This did not come as a surprise to me because the aforementioned most developed EU members and major fashion hubs. It also came to no shock to learn the locations of production for the two primary categories of medium priced products for mass market consumption and high- end luxury apparel. As spoken of before, it is logical that the more developed EU members product the high end luxury apparel and the places with cheaper labor practices created the mass consumption products.

  19. After reading this article I was shock to learn that the EU is still on of the primary producers of textiles and apparel. It is interesting that EU textiles are able to remain competitive with those of China. Although when looking at the numbers from Germany, I wasn’t surprised to see that they accounted for the largest portion of textile output. This is because the majority of textiles produced come from well developed counties. As per the videos from class, countries such as Germany, France, and Italy are able to stay competitive because of their perfected technique in specialized areas such as: Italian shirt making.

  20. When looking at this particular article I was aware that production in the EU was more prominent than in the United States but I didn’t know at the particular scale it was at. I had always known that places like Italy and France were leaders in textile and apparel production within the EU because of the luxury brands founded their but it surprised me the steps that Germany was taking in terms of advancing their own production. Germany is such a progressive country and it does not surprise me that they have been advancing in the production of innovative fabrics and textiles. It’s good for the world of textile and apparel trade that more countries are doing things to advance the industry and create competition.

  21. The EU region still being one of the leading producers throughout the world for both the textile and apparel industries is something that really sparked my interest. There are changes being made in the apparel manufacturing industry, with becoming capital, as well as the automation technology taking off greatly. With the constant evolution of technology, especially in today’s world, it is amazing to see what it can really do to help these industries become even more successful.

  22. This article is very interesting! It’s interesting that the EU region remains one of the leading producers of both textile and apparel industries. It did not come as a surprise since the EU are very well developed countries but I am interested with this. It’s interesting that the EU textiles have remained competitive with other countries for this long.

  23. It was very interesting to learn about the EU textile industry and compare it to the US industry. They have a much high end – luxury brand focus with high technical skills. They use automation to combat with high prices and seem to have the intra-trade logic down. The EU textile industry is flourishing with their highly skilled workers and efficiency.

  24. This article sheds light on something that I don’t think many realize. When we think of textile and apparel production, people jump immediately to Asia. But we don’t not alway think of Europe and are large player in production. People usually just think of runway fashion. I think the reason that Europe is still in the game because they have access to almost all parts of the supply chain within EU.

  25. I think EU is a rather close market for apparel and textile, with limited demand and supply. Personally, on my experience with European textiles and fabrics, they take up specfic market niche of high end products. Italian and Spanish fabrics are rather unique and expensive compare to those from NAFTA region and Asia suppliers. Meanwhile, EU companies dominates high end market as well, which has rather high profit margins per product that its competitors.

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