Director-General International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF)
After trade, sustainability and digitalisation are the most pressing issues
The International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) is an international forum for the world's textile industries to keep its members constantly informed through surveys, studies and publications, and through the organisation of annual conferences as well as publishing considered opinions on future trends and international developments. Director-General Christian Schindler briefs the ITMF 2019 annual conference at Porto, Portugal, to be held from October 20-22.
What would be the key highlights of the ITMF 2019 conference?
There are no key highlights. Rather, all
the different sessions and meetings are featuring industry experts and leaders who are kind enough to share their thoughts about the state of the industry and of course about the future of the industry. We are delighted that we have more than 40 speakers covering aspects of the entire textile value chain from fibres to retail.
What we are offering for the first time are two Start-up Sessions during which start-up companies can present their products/services and business models. Furthermore, we are organising for the first time a World Café during which delegates will discuss in small groups questions about the impact digitalisation and sustainability has and will have on their business model. We will conduct an online survey on these questions on the spot to make the World Café as interactive as possible.
What kind of impact have the US-China trade war and Brexit had on the global textiles industry?
The textile and all related industries are undergoing a very difficult period. The various trade conflicts around the world (e.g. US/China, US/EU, Korea/Japan), sanctions (e.g. Russia, Iran), or other political tensions like Brexit, Hong Kong, etc, are certainly weighing heavily on global growth and hence on the global textiles industry. Consequently, the textiles industry is struggling like other industries as well. While trade conflicts always produce a few winners, on balance the global textiles industry is suffering. The technological and environmental disruptions are challenging enough for the industry which prefers of course to work in a predictable and reliable political and economic framework.
In which areas in the industry do you see the adoption of digitisation and sustainability increasing?
All segments of the textiles value chain are adapting to the new business environment by making use of new technologies. For example, digital printing is a technology that looks very promising when it comes to saving water and being flexible. Unit costs are still higher than in conventional printing. Therefore, while the market share is still below 10 per cent, it offers many interesting applications that also support the efforts of the industry to become more sustainable. In the apparel industry new digital tools help to shorten the lead times (e.g. creation of samples), while at the same time saving resources. Certainly, recycling or circularity are experiencing a comeback. This time the approach is broader and holistic.
What new challenges is the textiles industry facing? Will those be addressed at the conference?
The textiles industry is facing many challenges at the same time. Next to the various trade conflicts which did not play a big role in the past decade, sustainability and digitalisation are the most pressing issues. When it comes to sustainability it is important to note that this comprises social, environmental and economic issues. While very often sustainability is looked at as a difficult challenge, it is important to realise that it is also offering new opportunities. If textile companies invest in sustainable production, they will improve their social and environmental footprint and consequently their economic bottomline.
What are the three disruptive technologies currently taking the textiles industry by a storm?
I am not sure whether you single out three technologies that are conquering the industry by storm. It is clear for the industry that investments in new technologies that help to save water and energy, reduce the share of labour and speed up the processes is an ongoing process to remain efficient and cost competitive. What is new is the widespread use of digital technologies that helps the industry overall to become even more efficient (e.g. preventive maintenance, digital avatars of machines for better service, marketing and educational purposes, etc). The level of automation is higher than ever before and will continue to rise in the future. What is also new is the use of big data. The skills to analyse big data is becoming more important. Additionally, the capability to produce more customised products is becoming key. The new technologies will make mass customisation a reality very soon. Production has to become versatile and flexible to meet the fast changing and personalised demand of the future.