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The Rupp Report: Vorarlberg In The Center Of Textile Attention

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

The federal state of Vorarlberg, Austria, is well known for its long textile tradition. It is the westernmost province of Austria, having borders with Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Its capital city is Bregenz, situated on Lake Constance. The city of Dornbirn also plays a very prominent role in the province. Many famous textile labels and brands are located in Vorarlberg, making it the center of Austria's yarn- and fabric-forming textile industry.

Long Tradition
And the history goes back to Karl Ulmer (1773-1846), who started the modern textile industry in Dornbirn, Vorarlberg: Around 1812, the shareholders of Rhomberg & Lenz started the first mechanical spinning mill. At the beginning, Ulmer was a miller and a grain dealer. The people of Vorarlberg imported a lot of grain from the German province of Swabia. This good business led to the temptation and idea to invest in textile companies. Historians note that in 1806, Ulmer and a partner founded a fabric-printing mill. In 1814, he started to build a chemical bleaching operation, a novelty in those days. In the following years, he added printing and bleaching.

Another interesting personality of Vorarlberg is Franz Martin Rhomberg (1811-1864). Rhomberg is a very famous name in the region. Textile processing was part of the Rhomberg family tradition, and Franz Martin's ancestors were dyers. At the age of 22, Franz Martin started his own dyeing company in Dornbirn. The business was so successful that he added textile printing to his activities.

These two names are just two examples in a long list of successful textile companies in Vorarlberg, of which many still exist today.

Spinning And Weaving
In the 1950s, some 50 percent of the workforce was employed in Vorarlberg's industrial sector. Three out of four workers made their living in the textile industry. The backbone of the Vorarlberg textile industry was cotton spinning and weaving. Up to the 1960s, these sectors were the most important ones. Knitting and warp knitting started only in the 1970s, reaching a high employment level similar to that in the spinning and weaving sector. Other involved sectors, such as embroidery and silk production, showed much lower employment figures.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Vorarlberg textile industry benefited from a relatively low level of wages. In neighboring countries, as well as in other European countries such as Belgium, France, Italy or the Netherlands, significantly higher wages were paid.

The effects of the oil crisis in the 1970s were also noticed and had an impact in Vorarlberg. In particular, the textile industry, with its strong export orientation, was affected, and the impact was fostered by increasing competition from low-wage countries. In the 1980s and 1990s, several textile industry flagship companies closed their doors forever.

Man-made Fibers Congress
For more than 50 years, Dornbirn has been the host city for the most important man-made fibers event in the world: the Dornbirn Man-Made Fibers Congress (Dornbirn-MFC), which is the communication platform of the international man-made fibers world. Experts from around the globe will be sharing their views and networking at this "must attend" congress. This year, the event will take place for the 52nd time Sept. 11-13, 2013. The main theme is "New Challenges Need New Solutions."

Not only does the natural fibers business put greater emphasis on issues such as sustainability. The man-made fibers producers and the upstream production chain also are forced to look at these issues. Consequently, Dornbirn-MFC will focus on important themes like sustainability and innovation.

New Challenges Need New Solutions
The congress will include more than 100 lectures given by experts in their fields who will provide insights into man-made fibers' innovative power and many application areas as well as new approaches for effective solutions. The organizers claim that this year, visitors will enjoy "a representative cross-section of lectures illustrating the contribution of various stages of the processing chain to a final product." There will also be parallel meetings of European man-made fibers organizations, and delegations and speakers from major U.S., Japanese and Korean organizations (See " 52nd Dornbirn Man-Made Fibers Congress (DORNBIRN-MFC) - 11th To 13th Of September 2013, " TextileWorld.com, March 25, 2013).

ITMF Annual Conference
As an outcome of the more coordinated communication among the international bodies and associations, the Switzerland-based International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) will hold its annual conference in the neighborhood of Dornbirn: the event will take place in Bregenz September 8- 10, just before Dornbirn-MFC. Top-ranking experts and decision makers in the areas of fibers, textiles, auxiliaries and textile machinery will discuss further economic developments.

"Powersharing between Production and Distribution" is the main theme of the ITMF conference. The program will include sessions about cotton and man-made fibers. More topics will include:

  • Europe's textile industry;
  • the textile supply chain;
  • retail;
  • technical textiles and nonwovens; and
  • the global market situation for textile machinery.

The ITMF conference is said to be the ultimate get-together and network gathering of the entire global textile industry. For the attendees of the ITMF Annual Conference, participation in Dornbirn-MFC is planned.

This is a very big opportunity for both sectors to exchange their views and should not be missed. The Rupp Report will provide more information about these two events in the coming weeks and months.

April 2, 2013