Thailand has a fully integrated textile industry with its many weaving, spinning, and garment enterprises. Fibre2Fashion finds out about the challenges faced and the potential Thailand's textile and apparel manufacturing sector holds.


The western world has dominated the textile and apparel industry ever since the 1800s, but if businesses have tried to ignore the eastern hemisphere, they have been doing that at their own peril.


One of the major players to emerge in the non-western world on the textile and apparel front is Thailand. The country has more than 2,000 garment companies and about the same number of firms flourishing in the textile industry, most of them located around Bangkok and in eastern Thailand.


Comprehensive structure

Industry in Thailand is proficient in producing fabric, sportswear, casualwear, kidswear and womenswear. The force behind the industry lies in the cluster of the country's textile sector, making it one of the few countries to handle all aspects from production, design and sale to home textiles. Thailand is a world-renowned silk producer and also produces spin or twist yarn. The country excels in eco-friendly finishing, dyeing, and printing services which meet global standards. However, the country has to deal with some issues.


Imports offsetting exports lead

Thailand's garment industry supports anywhere between 800,000 to 1 million employees, while the textile industry employs 200,000 people, making these two industries the second-most important employment sector in the country. While Thailand seems to be a robust place to support a huge population working in the textile sector, the major disadvantage is that it has to rely heavily on imports of cotton, yarn and fabric to produce textiles and garments.


In 2014, Thailand exported US$ 7.52 billion of garments and textiles, according to WITS data. Of that, US$ 3.42 billion of textiles and clothing were exported to east Asia and the Pacific, while US$ 1.24 billion worth of material was shipped to the United States of America. According to, apparel forms 90 per cent of the exports, followed by brassieres and other types of clothing items. But these top export numbers are offset by imports worth US$ 4.71 billion made in 2014. Again, most imports were made from east Asia and the Pacific market. China is a major purchasing market for textiles.


Why this imbalance?

Thailand's economy is not yet in a favourable place, in comparison with other Asian giants like China and India. So, its people seem to have less purchasing power. The lack of domestic purchasing power directly results in weak domestic demand, one of the reasons Thailand has to scour foreign markets to sell its textile and apparel products. Another reason that weakens Thailand's position is the scarcity of raw material. For example, Thailand's textile industry needs about 500,000 tonnes of cotton, but it only produces two per cent of the raw cotton it uses.

What is Thailand aiming at?

Thailand targets the United States of America, Japan and the United Kingdom to export most of its garments. It is also eyeing the Russian market. The garment industry is expanding its footprint globally, while the government is trying to become more involved with the industry by providing export credits and development of vocational training. The private sector has partnered with the government to boost innovation in the textile industry and to bring in modern technology into weaving, finishing, printing, knitting and dyeing. The focus is on modernising technology for greater efficiency, as well as improving skills of people working in the sector and competence of the businesses in the textile and apparel industry.


Looming threats

What proves to be an advantage to Thailand is its strategic location to become a distribution centre in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, with globalisation comes the risk of global competition, different trade blocks and group agreements. The implementation of ASEAN Economic Community at the end of 2015 could bring advantages and disadvantages. The deal could shift production capacity to low-wage countries and at the same time value-added products could develop in new markets, posing problems for the Thai textile and apparel industry.


One of the major competitors could be Myanmar, after it came under the generalised system of preferences of the European Union in 2013. Cheap labour in countries like India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Pakistan could challenge Thai industry. Another basic problem lies within the country. The younger generation in Thailand does not want to enter labour intensive industries. An executive director at the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association said the problem is not related to minimum wage but shortage of workers. As the gap widens, some local garment manufacturers are shifting their operations to Myanmar, Cambodia and other ASEAN countries, the director said.


High fashion appeal

The broader fashion industry in Thailand is blossoming, as showcased in the 33rd Bangkok International Fashion Fair held in 2015. Over 500 companies participated, up 17.5 per cent from the previous year. Young Thai fashion designers presented their collections with the aim of attracting international clients. "Sixty per cent of my clients are from overseas, mostly from Japan, Malaysia and Austria," a Bangkok designer was quoted as saying by Horizon Thailand. "The fashion industry in Thailand is growing; the young generation is more interested in fashion than ever. The feedback that I get from the (Bangkok International Fashion Fair) has been better and better every year," the designer is quoted.


Despite various threats jeopardising market deals and domestic issues, Thailand is set to create its own niche in the textile and apparel markets, complemented by the country's growing retail sector.




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