The European textiles industry may have finally been able to shrug off the sluggishness that had been holding it back since the end of the Multi-Fibre Agreement. Jozef De Coster spoke to industry leaders and experts during the recent ETP conference in Brussels, and found that the textiles industry there is now in an upbeat mood, and ready to take the lead in many segments.


The time of fear and desperation in the European textiles industry is over. At least, that's what Francesco Marchi, director-general of the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex), believes. The mood in the industry is upbeat and palpable.


The reasons for this swing were explained by manufacturers and researchers at the latest ETP conference in Brussels (October 12-13). ETP is the European Technology Platform for the future of textiles and clothing. European manufacturers are confident that their strengths in high-tech production, advanced materials, digitalisation and sustainability lend them an edge.


The optimism in the European textiles sector is not that of blind believers. The leaders and members of Euratex and ETP know very well that the sector has to address several big challenges, like its exaggerated dependency on imported (mainly Asian) fibres and dyestuffs, and its image as a "sunset industry" that makes it difficult to attract ambitious workers, students and researchers.


However, in spite of all challenges and threats, Lutz Walter, secretary-general of ETP, thinks that the next 10 years will see the re-emergence of European textiles leadership. He is confident that during the next decade European companies will successfully conquer global market niches.


The present position of the European manufacturing industry is very different from that at the end of 2004 (end of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement), when in the aftermath of the liberalisation of global textiles markets, this industry was characterised by off-shoring of volume textiles and clothing production, shrinkage and restructuring.


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European leadership is already there in the textile machinery industry.


Filips Lombaert, marketing director at Picanol, boasts that the Belgian weaving machine constructor has always been a pioneer in applying electronics to weaving machine control. By offering the most advanced electronic functions, Picanol allowed all weavers to enter the era of digital weaving.


According to Peter Dornier, CEO of Lindauer Dornier GmbH, the German specialist in weaving machines for technical textiles, growth markets abound. It is estimated that 60 per cent of all woven carbon and aramid fabrics, 50 per cent of all glass fibre fabrics, two out of every three airbags and three out of four car tyres worldwide are woven on the weaving machines built at Lindauer Dornier's plant in Germany. Dornier, which previously had a great record in the aircraft industry (until the Allies at the end of the second World War forbade Germany to manufacture aircraft) predicts a bright future for the suppliers of carbon fibre composites for the car, the aircraft and the aerospace industry.