Technical Textiles

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The weekend is around the corner, which means it is our special Sector Friday again! Our focus this week is Textiles! Don't go just yet as textiles aren't only about fashion, yarns and shoes. It also covers areas which involve advanced technology (think spiderman suits) and cool gadgets (electric shock underwear anyone?) – READ ON!

The sector covers yarns and fabrics preparation, textile mill products, the production and development of new fibres , wearing apparel- no surprises. But 49% of the sector is the dressing and dyeing of fur and processing leather into goods and final products.

I say Fun Facts, you say Key Stats:

  • UK textiles accounts for 2.5% of worldwide sector GVA at values of £11.5bn. In the UK it accounts for 3.4% of total manufacturing.
  • The sector employs 118,810 people in the UK across 7796 firms.
  • R &D spend growth in 2011 was 18%.
  • Capital spending grew by 69% in 2011, reaching £232m worth. This is over double that of 2009.
  • Significant production is located in the East Midlands, Yorkshire & Humber, North West and Scotland.
  • Some well-known British brands which produce in the UK: Aquascutum (16% UK production), Mulberry (approx. 30%), and John Smedley (100%, all production pulled back to UK from 2009). Some pioneering UK technical textiles manufacturers are: Eleksen, Fibretronic and Peratech.

Where are the products going?13% of output is exported, whilst 76% of output goes to households.Nearly £9bn worth of output was exported in 2011, accounting for 3.4% of UK manufacturing exports.Our biggest export markets are Germany and Ireland. In 2011, there was healthy growth in exports worldwide, notably to North America and Eastern Europe.

Technical textilesUK based textile manufacturers tend to be focused on high-value, design-led and knowledge-intensive niche products, e.g. companies based in the North West are particularly successful in technical textile markets. Short cut fibres for example, are widely used in a range of industrial applications.

Constant product and process innovation are very important to enhance the competitiveness of UK textiles, as well as investment in technologies. The Textiles Centre of Excellence in Huddersfield has been set up to provide training, production facilities and development support.Revival of textiles manufacturers?There has been a lot of media coverage on reshoring recently, e.g. a major high-street stalwart announced a 3 year contract with British Fashion Council in Feb 13, to collaborate on new collections which feature sourcing and production in the UK. It is forecast that the industry will grow and increase jobs in the next 5 years.Some other clothing retailers are considering bringing production lines back to reduce the total cost base, ensure a quicker turnaround time, more flexibility, and to improve the quality and consistency of output.But with some textiles-specific skills lost after significant offshoring, the sector may come up against challenges.Future challenges and opportunities:

  • The British heritage and glamourEmerging economies have triggered demand for luxury goods using premium-grade material produced by UK manufacturers. The prestigious status, history, product excellence and ‘Made in Britain' design is a major selling point of the goods.Currently, around 90% of high quality UK textile production is targeted at export markets.
  • The next generation of textilesThe developing technical and performance textiles have great potential, e.g. the field of ‘wearable electronics', i.e. interactive textiles embodying sensors, actuators and logic circuits built into the structure of the fibres and fabrics. This may also build a new export base for the UK.There are key concerns about intellectual property of products and processes, and maintaining global competitiveness of our textiles products. It is also critical to link the expertise of UK academic research in textiles to commercial manufacturing in order to maximise growth in technical textiles markets.


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