Apr 3, 2023
The Portuguese textile industry is currently undergoing a transformation in order to recover from the pandemic and solidify its position as Europe’s leading partner for local textile production. While the industry’s high-volume production and competitive pricing have been critical to its success in recent years, Portugal aims to set itself apart from neighbouring regions such as Morocco or Turkey by focusing on producing high-quality products. To achieve this, Portugal is leveraging its well-established and highly skilled manufacturing industry to create products that adhere to the most stringent sustainability criteria.
“Nowadays, we are working with different types of brands than in the past. Our role has evolved. The brands and designers that now produce their products in Portugal are less fixated on price and are instead looking for sustainability,” said Ana Paula Dinis, executive director of the ATP (Associação Têxtil e Vestuário de Portugal). “We no longer offer solutions to brands that are only looking for low prices. This means that we have suffered in terms of volume of orders but have improved in terms of the quality of our products and clients,” she added.
According to the representative of the Portuguese textile association, customer diversification is crucial for the industry’s continued success. Factories have gone from working mainly with large companies or textile giants to working with emerging brands and designers who demand smaller quantities but that are in search of high-quality textiles and designs. This has led to higher purchase prices, meaning that total turnover has not been significantly affected. In addition, factories have become more independent as they are less subject to large orders.
A key industry for a relatively small market
Today, the Portuguese textile and clothing industry represents 9% of national exports (3% of EU textile and clothing exports) and accounts for 8% of turnover and 8% of production of the Portuguese manufacturing industry. Additionally, the sector employs up to 19% (128,600 people) of the manufacturing industry’s workforce.
In 2022, the sector’s overall export revenue reached 6.122 billion euros (914 million euros from home textiles, 1.660 billion euros from other textiles and 3.548 billion euros from clothing). This total figure represents a 13% increase from 2021, when the industry recorded 5.413 billion euros in export revenue, and a 17% increase from 2019, when the figure stood at 5.215 billion euros.
Imports, on the other hand, grew by 26% in 2022 to 5.426 billion euros. Spain is Portugal’s main textile importing country, accounting for 34% of imports, followed by Italy (11%), China (9%), Germany (7%), India (6%) and France (6%).
The Portuguese textile industry’s main customers: Spain, France, Germany and the US
Thing have also changed in Spain, a country that has long depended on Portuguese production. Although to this day the market remains Portugal’s main customer for textiles, representing 23% of exports and a turnover of 1.424 billion euros in 2022, its market share has declined over the last few years. In 2019, Spanish purchases amounted to 1.598 billion euros, which means that imports from Spain have contracted by 11% between then and the end of the 2022 financial year.
“In the past, Spain accounted for almost 40% of our foreign production, but now we are very far from these percentages. The big Spanish brands will continue to manufacture in Morocco and Turkey so we don’t foresee huge growth in this country. It’s a country that depends more on clothing than on home textiles,” said Dinis.
Due to its proximity and production needs, the Galician giant Inditex has traditionally been one of the Portuguese textile industry’s most important Spanish clients.
France is the second largest customer for Portuguese textiles, with a market share of 15%. According to ATP’s latest data, imports from the French region increased by 40% between 2019 and 2022, reaching 942 million euros. The German market accounts for 9% of Portuguese textile exports, with a turnover of 539 million euros in 2022. Along with France, the markets that have grown the most in the last two years have been the American market ( up 40% to 477 million euros in imports in 2022) and the Italian market ( up 39% to 452 million euros in turnover in 2022).
EU countries represent 73% of Portuguese textile exports, with 4.488 billion euros in revenue, while non-EU countries account for 27% of the total at 1.633 billion euros.
Price increases and future outlook
“Between 2009 and 2019, all economic indicators were growing and the textile industry was performing very well until the pandemic. We did not start to recover until 2021 and, in 2022, the first few months were very positive. The second half of the year was greatly affected by rising gas and energy prices,” recalled Dinis. “The worst months are over and we are going to do better,” she added optimistically.
“The impact of inflation and the increasing value of the products we offer have resulted in a consequent increase in prices,” said the ATP representative, noting that although export turnover for 2022 grew by 13%, the volume of exports contracted by 1% to 524,000 tonnes of textiles. “As exports represent a large part of our production and we are a small market, we are always significantly affected by disturbances in Europe and the United States,” she explained about the current uncertain social, political and economic circumstances of the last few months.
Regarding other countries with strong textile manufacturing industries, such as Turkey, the manager assured that she does not anticipate direct competition: “In Portugal, we are preparing ourselves to offer a diverse range of production under different conditions. This is one of our most competitive advantages and it opens doors to many clients”.
According to Mario Jorge Machado, president of the ATP, sustainability is a top priority for the Portuguese textile industry.
“Portugal is one of the leaders in this transformation. As one of the main players in Europe, with an indisputable relevance in terms of industrial development and production, the Portuguese textile sector has adopted new processes, techniques and technologies, and has invested in new machinery so that the entire ‘made in Portugal’ manufacturing process can be more sustainable and serve as an example to the rest of the world”.
The ATP’s 500 or so members are involved in various projects focused mainly on saving water, using renewable energies, improving traceability, and enhancing dyeing, printing, finishing and recycling processes.
Modtissimo: the gateway to the Portuguese textile industry
The Modtissimo trade show, the oldest professional event on the Iberian Peninsula, took place on February 15 and 16 at the Exponor venue in Matosinhos (Porto) and broke attendance records, attracting 5163 visitors to its 60+1 edition. The event featured around 150 textile exhibitors, over 60 manufacturing and ready-to-wear specialists, and around 30 representatives from companies such as Lectra and Messe Frankfurt. While Portuguese companies such as Riopele Texteis, A. Sampaio, and Malhas Madalena Beça were among the standout exhibitors, the fair also had a notable number of Turkish exhibitors.
The event’s last edition attracted 504 international buyers, with a significant number coming from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Austria, indicating the industry’s growing presence in foreign markets. Manuel Serrão, general director of Associação Selectiva Moda and the organizer of the fair, expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the post-pandemic edition. Serrão highlighted the quality of the contacts made and the positive feedback on the fair’s commitment to internationalisation, which he believes is crucial to the industry’s development.
The next edition of the event will take place again at the Exponor exhibition centre in Porto on September 13 and 14.
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