Study: 158,000 jobs and 13,000 apparel and textile companies could disappear by 2021

An unprecedented
disruption of retail, production and trade like the current one could send
the European textile and apparel industry into a tailspin. In its recent
report “Bruised but not beaten, Europe’s textile industry is a perfect
candidate for a greener and digital recovery”, credit insurance company
Euler Hermes predicts turnover to fall by 19 percent in 2020 and up to 8
percent of total industry employment and 6 percent of companies – about
158,000 jobs and 13,000 companies – to disappear by the end of 2021.
FashionUnited wanted to know more about this grim prediction and talked to
one of the study authors, Aurélien Duthoit, Euler Hermes’ sector lead for
retail, technology & household.

Collecting and analysing EuroStat data for different European countries
and correlating it with employing data and looking at past recessions,
Euler Hermes arrived at the figure of potentially 158,000 being lost and
about 13,000 companies having to give up, despite the major relief provided
by the various job-retention schemes and abundant funding.

The good news is that by next year itself, things could considerably
improve: “We expect turnover to bounce back by about +15 percent in 2021
and return to pre-crisis levels only in 2023, assuming a progressive easing
of the global sanitary emergency and substantial fiscal and monetary
support to the economy,” finds the report.

Clothing retail worst affected

Study: 158,000 jobs and 13,000 apparel and textile companies could disappear by 2021

While technical textiles – for example those used in the aerospace
sector – have been affected by the slump, it is the fashion sector, which
relies on consumer spending and consumer confidence, that is affected more.
“Looking at clothing retail, it is currently the worst affected. We are not
seeing a strong rebound as with other products like furniture, computers
and smartphones,” confirms Duthoit after checking recent data.

While strong European economies like the UK, France, Italy and Germany
are still deep in the red, the latter two could recover faster with Germany
having had a less dramatic start to 2020 than other countries and Italy
relying on a huge trade network that includes Europe and Africa apart from

Import substitution is another keyword: “A 10 percent decrease in French
and German imports of apparel would represent the equivalent of an 8
percent boost in European apparel manufacturing turnover. Efforts to
encourage a transition from linear to circular manufacturing practices
could also yield substantial opportunities for the local manufacturing
base,” so the report.

For fashion, the problem seems to be the consumer sentiment, there is
less of a mood to buy it, at least to the extent as before. “In the
Netherlands, there was no closure of non-essential stores but fashion sales
were down by 19 procent for January through July. Fashion is the only
segment of retail that is still negative,” says Duthoit, adding that “more
precise information is needed to determine the sector’s medium-term

Study: 158,000 jobs and 13,000 apparel and textile companies could disappear by 2021

Is digitisation the answer?

The big question is how the fashion industry can indeed come out of the
slump. “For the areas that could provide some relief – sustainability,
digital – there are medium-term challenges. Also, the wider economy needs
to return to normal and that will not happen till 2022,” predicts Duthoit.

“The Internet is not enough to compensate for the crisis,” he cautions,
pointing to online retail figures that, though they are booming – with a
plus of 16-17 percent year-on-year in Germany, for example – they cannot
fill the void left by missing retail sales in stores. “This is true even
for early adopters of online strategies like Zara; though an online
presence was there during the lockdown, it was not enough to make up for
lost in-store sales. In addition, return rates are high and despite online
growth success, this prevents profitability.”

Last but not least, given that sustainability is hailed as the need of
the hour, how likely is it that the textile industry will indeed become
greener and not just go back to old patterns? “This would be coming from
new companies,” says Duthoit. “It is happening in France with very specific
products or those that are 100 percent made in France.”

Study: 158,000 jobs and 13,000 apparel and textile companies could disappear by 2021

Is a greener textile industry likely in the future?

A greener textile industry would place greater emphasis on quality
rather than quantity, finds the report, and points to the case of Italy,
where the aligned interests of consumers, retailers and manufacturers have
allowed the country to keep a preference for more expensive, yet higher
quality and locally made apparel, which sets an example for the rest of the

“For established players, becoming more sustainable is hard because that
would require business model innovation. Especially for fast fashion, which
relies on volume and may try to incorporate more recycled fibres, but the
textile industry is at the very early stages when it comes to organic
fibres and usings standards like Oeko-Tex and others. Shifting business
models cannot happen overnight. Thus, the ‘greenification’ of the industry
is coming from new players,” sums up Duthoit.

Images: Euler Hermes


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