What does the Portuguese textile sector currently represent for the economy?
The textile sector is of crucial importance; it represents 10% of total industrial exports from Portugal and more than 15% of employment in the manufacturing industry. The most important thing, however, is that the sector is counter-cyclical to other first-world countries. From 2008-2009, GDP shrank by about 20%. However, since 2009 we have increased exports by 50% and employee efficiency by 50%. These figures are extremely important because we are not operating in a protected market. We grew significantly outside of the EU in the first 10 years after the crisis. We went to Russia, South America, Asia, and the GCC, for example, as a result of the reaction to the fall in consumption in Europe in 2009. We have a gap of about EUR200 million between production and turnover. Basically, we produce all the products we sell, and it is necessary to have the most efficient processes and generate more value per article per square meter. This is the current situation of the sector in Portugal.
How has the sector worked to set itself apart from its competitors around the world?
First of all, Portugal has a flourishing textile and fashion culture and a strong and consolidated industrial experience, demonstrated by the way we preserved the industry in the last two decades. Second, we have a strong scientific and technological system within the industry. Well-known textile institutions and companies from around Europe now send people to study here. Finally, we have completely changed the way we do business with textiles related to management systems and practices. Many Portuguese companies offer a lead time of two weeks currently, which is amazing for any sector. We also developed product development and innovation as a current component. In 2005, Portugal basically used to sell “minutes" of industrial transformation, including machine time, energy, and labor, while today almost all the companies develop and design the products they sell. Now, we offer fashion solutions, and customers understand that we can play a part in developing their collections. This is a completely new approach. We have also focused a great deal on technical development and created new applications for the automotive, defense, and health sectors, among others. This was important in distancing ourselves from emerging economies, where labor costs are often extremely low.
Which areas of the sector have potential in the coming years?
There are certain other subsectors that are extremely important for us. Automotive, sport, and protective equipment applications are on top, a clear nexus between technology and design. Sports clothing or protective equipment is also fashionable, and materials must improve performance. The link between technical materials and fashion is vital. We are extremely involved in the development of fabrics as advanced devices and sensors.
Which subsectors of the textile industry are likely to attract the most investment and development in the future?
Most textile companies in the country are owned and operated by Portuguese. We have many people capable of driving new companies and partnerships. If we have the right financing for companies, then we are well positioned. Our past experience with international companies was not successful, because they came mainly to exploit differences in labor costs and would leave at the first sign of difficulty. Had the textile sector belonged to foreign banks or investment partnerships during the 2008-2009 crisis, the industry would have definitely closed down. Fortunately, the industry is in the hands of Portuguese families, and they have a different mindset about the companies. Portuguese industrialists are more willing to invest in the sector when times get tough. Family ownership was the secret to Portugal's success during the difficult years. Recently, several foreign companies came to Portugal to invest in the sector, now motivated by the excellence our country offers.