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ITMF Annual Conference: Austrian Textile Industry: Small But Strong

VTI President Dionys Lehner, Ph.D., discusses Austria's textile industry and plans for the ITMF Annual Conference in Bregenz.

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

The 2013 annual conference of the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) will be held September 8-10 in Bregenz, Austria, on the shores of beautiful Lake Constance. In an exclusive interview with Textile World , Dionys Lehner, Ph.D., president of conference co-host the Austrian Textile Industry Federation (VTI), discussed the reasons and opportunities for the Austrian textile industry to be the host country of this very important global meeting.

VTI serves as the lobbying organization and service center for textile companies in Austria. The sector includes some 340 businesses, including 200 companies in the embroidery sector, employing some 12,600 people and achieving a turnover of more than 2.5 billion euros. The 89-percent export share demonstrates that Austrian textiles are in demand around the world and enjoy a high reputation. According to Lehner, "the products and services of the Austrian textile industry stand for high quality, creativity, flexibility and reliability."

ITMFLenzTextil
Dionys Lehner, Ph.D., is president of VTI and director general of Linz Textil Holding AG.

TW: You became VTI's president 20 years ago. How is VTI organized, and what do you want to achieve as its president?

Lehner: Well, the Austrian textile industry is organized in two ways: First of all, there is a national chamber of commerce that takes care of the basic organization of the sector. Secondly, we as the VTI are a voluntary professional association.

The main goal is to have an association that is independent and has a solid financial background. We are the voice of the Austrian textile industry and have excellent relations with other national bodies and ITMF.

TW: Please tell us about yourself.

Lehner: I am Swiss, born in 1942. I studied economics and wrote my thesis about public finance. To increase my knowledge, I studied two years at Harvard University and got my MBA. After coming back to Europe, I worked for two years with McKinsey & Co. before founding my own consulting office. This activity brought me in contact with Linz Textil AG. In 1977, I became CEO of Linz Textil for a restructuring job. Since then, we have increased the turnover 12-fold. Three years ago, I retired as CEO, but am still acting as director general of Linz Textil Holding.

Austrian Textile Industry
In the last decades, the structure of the textile industry has changed considerably. Today, the most important textile industry sectors in Austria are high-quality yarns, fabrics and textile specialties, home textiles, and textiles for industrial applications.

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Top-quality yarn and fabric production for apparel are backbones of the Austrian textile industry. The products are established in high-fashion apparel, sportswear, underwear and technical textile products. An important and well-known sector is embroidery. Home textiles are a further cornerstone: Austrian textile products are found in hotels, theaters, public buildings and transport facilities.

The youngest and latest sector is technical textiles. This segment is extremely important for the national industry, as it is the fastest-growing sector with still-untouched potential.

TW: Is Austria still a textile country?

Lehner: Not really. With some 13,000 people, we hold 10th place on the Austrian list of important industry sectors. However, the remaining companies are very successful and have a high export rate. They might not be the biggest, but many of them belong among the European leaders, with their labels in their own sector.

ITMF Conference
TW: Did you have the idea to bring the ITMF conference to Austria?

Lehner: Well, there was something in the air. Last time the event took place in Austria was 1975 in Vienna. So the Austrian textile industry thought it's time to do something. The initiative came from Christian Schindler of ITMF.

TW: Why did you choose Bregenz and not another city?

Lehner: First of all, we wanted to go to a different place than Vienna. Secondly, and this is of even more importance, the annual Dornbirn Man-made Fibers Congress (Dornbirn-MFC) takes place in Dornbirn, in the neighborhood of Bregenz. Dornbirn-MFC attracts hundreds of specialists from all over the world. We thought it would be a good idea to give the ITMF conference attendees the chance to attend this event too.

TW: Can you enlighten us about some details of the program?

Lehner: I can assure you that we will see something very special and unique, different from other ITMF conferences. The very special location of Bregenz will play an important role.

TW: What do you expect from the congress for Austria's textile industry?

Lehner: The Austrian textile industry should not be underestimated — it is alive and in strong shape.

Markets
TW: How do you see the current market situation?

Lehner: As in every other European country, the Austrian textile industry is shrinking. The textile industry in Europe is alive — in spite of all troubles, we still have high performance and are leaders in fashion. The situation is in some ways satisfactory. The number of unemployed people in Europe and Austria will slightly increase, but so will productivity. Even after five years, the financial crisis is still there — the situation is very fragile and not yet solved. I believe the addiction to ever-ongoing growth is wrong. Maybe one should be happy if he can maintain the status quo. There is always also the ecological question to consider.

TW: How important is the textile industry for Austria?

Lehner: The Austrian textile industry is one of the most traditional domestic industry sectors, and at the same time, it is among the international leaders in innovation in highly specialized sectors. Even in the currently difficult market environment, it maintains its position with a strong commitment to invest in the future.

TW: What are the main advantages for the Austrian textile industry?

Lehner: The Austrian textile industry is producing up to the highest ecological standards, quite similarly to Switzerland. Austria is a small country, but it fights very hard with very good and capable people coming from different ethnic groups and nationalities. This results in a good blend of very innovative citizens working in a high-quality segment.

TW: Why should a customer buy textile products from Austria and not elsewhere?

Lehner: In Europe, Austria is an alternative. For a long time, Italy and France were the superpowers. Another advantage is certainly the euro. As I mentioned before, Austrians produce top quality. Think about Lenzing, for example, the global leader for the production of cellulosic fibers. Our products have a high standard and are very fashionable. Think about apparel, for example, Wolford and other top labels, such as Getzner or Sattler, as well as home textiles. Textiles in Austria mean tradition with a quality of life. I am convinced that specialties will remain in this country, sending out a strong sign of life.

TW: How do you see the market over the next few years?

Lehner: I think Europe will be suffering for some six to eight years from now with some structural problems. Europe is too slow, one waits too long, and there is too much muddling through.

TW: What would you say to the ITMF conference visitors in Bregenz?

Lehner: Welcome to Bregenz! Come and see that Europe is much stronger than its current position on the global economic map. The performance is not built upon a structure of power, but in its capability and the performance of its people.

July/August 2013