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The Rupp Report: Textiles For Humankind

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

It is no secret that many textile-producing companies, mainly in Western countries with higher production and labor costs than in the developing countries, are trying to escape from the "Fashion Trap," as the Rupp Report likes to call it. It also is no secret that for at least the last two decades, Asian countries, particularly China and other countries in the Pacific Rim, have overtaken the Western Hemisphere to produce the major commodity portion of fabrics and apparel.

Industrial Fabrics
At an early stage, some Western companies started a new business sector: specialty textile products — to put it bluntly — to "make some money again." The key to this money making was and still is industrial fabrics, also called technical textiles. Since then, many companies, including the textile machinery manufacturers, have diversified their product portfolios and become an important player in this promising market.

But, which is the way to go in this sector? First of all, it takes a lot of action to establish a serious and profitable production line; and secondly, it also takes a lot of time to build up a reputation and become an important source for industrial fabrics and products. And, of top of that, there are endless possibilities, meaning sectors to enter: construction, civil engineering, agrotextiles, geotextiles, and so on.

As evidenced frequently in reports in Textile World and its sister magazines Textiles Panamericanos and Textile World Asia , the sectors of protective garments, including medical textiles, could be very promising markets to ensure the future of experienced and specialized textile enterprises. One might even call them "textiles for humankind." The simple reason for this expression is the fact that there is nothing more important in this world than each and every human being. And the global population is still rising, mainly in the emerging countries. And all these people must be served and protected from whatever problem there is for the human body, above and below the soil, with the right textile product. The following estimate and projection about the world's population now is becoming further ammunition to support this observation:

Rising Population
In the recently published "2010 Revision of World Population Prospects," the Population Division of the United Nations (UN) Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that the global population will reach 9.3 billion in 2050 and 10.1 billion in 2100. In a previous report published in 2008, the UN estimated the global population would reach up to 9.15 billion people in 2050.

It is predicted that a substantial part of this increase will come from high-fertility countries, 39 of which are in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceania and four in Latin America. Of these countries, 15 — including Pakistan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Republic of Tanzania, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ghana, Yemen, Mozambique and Madagascar — represent 75 percent of the population.

Low-fertility countries include all but two countries in Europe, 19 Asian countries, 14 countries in the Americas and two in Africa, as well as Australia. Among these countries, nine — including China, Brazil, the Russian Federation, Japan, Vietnam, Germany, Iran, Thailand and France — represent 75 percent of the population.

Among intermediate-fertility countries, three-fourths of the population lives in India, the United States, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico and Egypt. Most of the population — and also textile — growth in the future is likely to occur in high-fertility countries, which between 2011 and 2100 would see a more than threefold population increase, from 1.2 billion to 4.2 billion, according to medium variant projections. By comparison, the population of the intermediate-fertility countries would grow by 26 per cent, from 2.8 billion to 3.5 billion; and in the low-fertility countries, there would be an approximate 20 percent drop in population, from 2.9 billion to 2.4 billion.

And Now?
These somewhat theoretical figures seem to point to big opportunities for new textile business outside the fashion sector. However, as noted by investment banker Martin O. Hutchinson, a contributing editor to the Money Map Report and Money Morning: "[T]his explosive population growth figures to be a disaster from a global-resources standpoint - and for two very good reasons.

"First, if we want all 10.1 billion people [in 2100] to enjoy a standard of living that's essentially on par with us here in the West (meaning they all have automobiles, washing machines, refrigerator/freezers, and all the rest of the latest electronic gadgets), the consumer demand will put an impossible strain on global resources - and if the global-warming theory proves accurate, will heat our planet up like a meatball in a wok.

"Second, the vast majority of these new people will be in very poor countries, many of which are already stretched in terms of water, food and other resources."

In this scenario, recycling becomes a simple matter of surviving; and recycled fiber material is an excellent raw material for all kinds of industrial textiles products such as geotextiles and many more.

Just Go For It
Here is the chance to do some real new business: All these countries, which are competitors in the commodity businesses such as apparel, need new products, and mainly textiles for humankind. Under the soil, they need geotextiles to prevent the land from being lost and specialty textiles to keep the water where it's needed. Above the soil, they need all kinds of housing, tents, agrotextiles to protect food crops from too much heat, and more. And on top of that, all these people will have a need for personal textile products such as protective garments for various applications, hygiene and medical textiles, and so on.

Just think about the soaring costs for raw materials and energy. On the other hand, prices for commodity textiles are constantly shrinking. For a Western textile producer who reads these figures, wherever he may be, there is only one way to get out of this vicious circle: stay away from commodities, specialize. Imagination is one of the key words for future success in textiles.

If one thinks about the personal requirements of a human being in a developed society, there are no bounds for imaginative new products, and the sky is the only limit.

June 14, 2011