Specialty chemicals are made for a specialized use. No specific definition is available for specialty chemicals. In general it can be described as chemicals with high value and low volume which is used as performance enhancing properties. Additives, adhesives, corrosion inhibitors, dyes, lubricants, and pigments are a few to name.
Manufacturers and retailers work on a frantic pace, to make and sell trendy garments at competitive prices. With todays fashion, apparels have to be both functional and stylish. Growing demands in the customer expectations and distinct performance requirements in the end user industries require focus on providing product and application know-how to the ultimate consumers. Attempts made by businesses to come up with innovative solutions manipulate the market for specialty chemicals.
During the process of manufacture, textiles go through various chemical treatments. This includes pretreatment, dyeing, and refinement of textiles. Special chemicals such as flame retardants, water repellents, and warp sizes are used in this process. More than sixty different textile chemicals are used in various textile processes like yarn formation, fabric pretreatment, laminating, finishing, and coating. Textile dyes and chemicals segment is the largest component of the chemicals industry. Dyestuff segment is the biggest industry due to its forward and backward linkages with versatile applications in textiles, leather, printing inks, paper etc.
Global market for specialty chemicals is estimated to be around $500 billion USD. This includes approximately 50 segments of construction, textile, oil field, electronic chemicals and polymer additives. Market is concentrated in US, EU, and Japan with the future growth potential seen brightly in Asian countries. Growth rate in the economy of these countries and improvement in the consumers lifestyle command for increased productivity of these performance enhancing materials.
Fibre2Fashion had an exclusive interview with Mr. Paul C Ford, Chief Executive Officer, Agion Technologies.
Being a part of the industry, what is your perception about the growth of specialty chemicals in the textile segment, and its current market size?
"Agion sees growth potential in the industry as new technologies to combat odor emerge to set a new bar of performance particularly in apparel. Penetration of antimicrobials in particular for all market segments is still relatively small-for example, the technologies have only been adopted by higher end performance wear-and have not yet penetrated into mainstream casual apparel. We do expect this penetration to occur in the near future. In addition we are seeing growth opportunities in areas related to healthcare, ranging from uniforms to environmental design".
How would you look at the overall growth of specialty chemical industry? What innovation do you see in the near future?
"Market sizing is tied to vertical application and penetration within those segments. For example, performance finishes-whether antimicrobial, wicking, stain resistance, anti-wrinkle etc.-continue to be adopted as standard features for apparel. As far as antimicrobial fibers or finishes go, many segments are just beginning to adopt these features. In footwear, for example, Agion enjoys major market share-already there have been more than 100 million shoes with the Agion feature for odor protection. This is specifically in performance footwear such as running shoes, hiking boots, and ski/snow boots and this feature is quickly becoming adopted by mainstream retail brands including Wal-Mart and Kohls".
Which countries offer potential market for specialty chemicals?
"The majority of manufacturing done for our textile partners is in Asia. We are also seeing increased activity and interest from India, parts of the Middle East and Latin America. As far as brand targets, we will continue to build on our base in the United States and look forward to expansion in Europe".
Specialty chemicals industry does not need enormous capital for its setup, but requires deep pool of scientific manpower. However, payback on these chemicals is not quick enough to attract investors. Specialty chemical industry is knowledge based, and countries need to become knowledge based with a dual focus on technology as well as customer requirements to survive the global environment.