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The Renewal of the French Textile Industry – Technical Textiles

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The French textile industry continues its growth and presents many opportunities for Spanish industries and exporters.

The French textile, clothing and accessories industries have traditionally been the preserve of small and medium sized companies. Historically, they have always played an important role in the industrial revolutions of the XIX and XX centuries. Nowadays, however, the industry is undergoing a Europe-wide decline. Production in low-cost economies means that the industry has experienced radical changes: production has given way to design, innovation, personalisation and sales. The industry now needs skilled employees able to adapt quickly to new means of production and their processes and to design ever more technically sophisticated products.

Despite the difficulties being faced by the industry, France still ranks third in Europe behind Italy and Germany with total sales representing 12% and employing 10% of the workforce. Fashion, luxury goods, technology and sustainable development are the cornerstones of what is now referred to as the creative industry. 

French industry is now concentrated on innovative and high value-added products such as technical textiles which now represent some 15% of the market. Fibre innovation has played an important role in this development, especially in linen in which France now manufactures 70% of the European production.

In the strictly technical field, France is now the second largest European producer of geosynthetics and is leader in agro-industrial investigation. The textile industry is concentrated in: Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Rhône-Alpesregions which account for 46% of employment in the industry. Other important centres are to be found in Champagne-Ardenne, Alsace, Lorraine, Picardy, Midi-Pyrénés and l’Île de France. 

The industry is represented by a large number of organisations including: L’Institut Français de la Mode (IFM); Union Française des Industries de l’Habillement (UFIH); La Fédération de la Maille, l’Institut Français du Textile et de l’Habillement (IFTH); Comité de Développement et de Promotion de l’Habillement (DEFI) which is a cluster that is proving vital in the building of networks, sharing common experiences and forging alliances.

Another noteworthy factor that is maintaining a vibrant textile industry in France is the number of exhibitions and shows which are held in the country in cities such as Paris, Lyon and Lille in which international exhibitions cover all aspects of the `production cycle and which are also to be found in Japan, the States and, even, China.

The workforce is far more “feminine” than the norm in manufacturing; 48% compared to 28%, though this is more evident in the traditional industry than the technical side of the business; 44% compared to 39%. Even given the predominance of women, only one third of them receive any training and they are paid far less than equally qualified men. Although this is true of all manufacturing, it is especially prevalent in the textile industry where women are only paid 70% that of their male equivalents.

Average ages in the industry are relatively high and the number of over-forties is growing whilst that of the under-thirties is diminishing. However, worker turnover is low. Workers tend to stay in the same company for a long time (one in two more than 10 years) though there is very little job mobility within companies.

The definition of technical textiles as given by the Dirección General de l Empresa is: those materials or textiles in which their technical or functional performance are considered more important than aesthetic or decorative considerations. Thus the feature that distinguishes the sector from the traditional textile industry is that it provides new and innovative solutions to other sectors such as medicine, transport, the rapidly growing world market for geotextiles, construction and the environment.

Some examples of markets and applications:

Agrotech – Agriculture, Aquaculture, Horticulture, Silviculture
Buildtech – Building and Construction+Clothtech – Technical components and materials for clothing and footwear.+
Geotech – Geotextiles for public works and gardens.
Hometech – Technical components and materials for furniture, home fittings, and floor coverings.
Indutech – Filters, transport, cleaning and other industrial uses.
Meditech – Hygiene and medicine.
Mobiletech – Automotive industry, transport, railways and aero-spatial applications.
Ecotech – Environmental protection
Packtech – Packaging.
Protech – Personal and property protection.
Sporttech – Sports and leisure.

Continued growth in the technical textiles industry depends on continued investigation and the application of results to practical purposes and the continuing search for sustainable growth.

When launching new products there are several fundamental differences between the traditional and technical industries. At the heart of the former are the producers who create demand by supplying consumers with new fashions and accessories. On the other hand, the market for technical textiles is driven by their performing to the specifications of the job at hand and their design, purchase and use is dependent on satisfying this need. It is the market not the supplier that creates demand.

In Europe there are 4 main consumers who account for about 50% of demand: Germany (14%); France (12%); United Kingdom (10%) and Italy (9%).

In 2004, the three main European organisations involved in the investigation and development of textiles (Euratex, Textranet and AUTEX) created the European Technology Platform for the Future of Textiles and Clothing in Europe. Their sights were set on three main building blocks: consideration, proposal and action:

- Greater emphasis on creating technically sophisticated products

- Increased R&D in the field of industrial textiles

- Replacing mass-market production with an increase in manufacture of bespoke products.

Sources:

Data taken from a study carried out for: Fashion.net; ORT France; Education and Training and Leonardo da Vinci Programme for Education and Culture.