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

Automation Comes to Fashion

Video Discussion Questions:

#1 Why do you agree or disagree with the video that automation will post a significant challenge to garment workers in developing countries such as Bangladesh? How should policymakers react to the challenges?

#2 Can automation be a permanent solution to the social responsibility problem in the garment industry?

#3 In your view, how will automation affect the big landscape of apparel sourcing and the patterns of world textile and apparel trade?

#4 Why or why not do you anticipate a sizable return of apparel manufacturing to the United States if apparel production can be largely automated?

Additional reading: The robots are coming for garment workers. (WSJ, 2018)

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