Durable and inexpensive, “made in Portugal” textiles are back in fashion

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European UnionDurable and inexpensive, “made in Portugal” textiles are back in fashion

Decimated by relocations in the 2000s, the Portuguese textile industry is once again overwhelmed by orders thanks to its cheap labor and its capacity for innovation.

The region of Vila Nova de Famalicao has been equipped for thirty years with a technological institute for textiles and clothing, which works on new fibers.

AFP

After the wave of relocations in the 2000s, the Portuguese textile industry recovered, becoming a major player in Europe thanks to its flexibility and cheap labor, combined with an innovation effort focused on environment.

Near Vila Nova de Famalicao, in the northern district of Porto, the Riopele factory is immersed in the deafening noise of nearly two hundred state-of-the-art weaving machines, which are running at full speed 24 hours a day, six days a week. 7. One of the jewels of an industry rooted in the Ave Valley – named after the river that crosses the textile region – the company founded in 1927 and its thousand employees is once again overwhelmed with orders after the hole of air caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

New technics

Every day, the factory produces some 40,000 meters of fabric, 98% of which is for export. Its clients include groups such as the Spanish Inditex, owner of Zara, or the American brand Tommy Hilfiger. This clientele values ​​an “ability to be different” from foreign competition, explains the director of the Riopele group, Albertina Reis, citing its ability to use “new techniques” of sustainable production without compromising on “aesthetics”.

However, the sector comes back from afar. Shaken by the relocation of companies to Asia to reduce their production costs, between 2000 and 2015 it lost nearly 100,000 jobs out of the 235,000 recorded at the start of this period. Since then, the sector has started to hire again in a country where the minimum wage is currently 705 euros per month over 14 months, one of the lowest in the European Union after that of the Eastern countries.

Record exports

The export of Portuguese textile products, which find their main outlets in Spain and France, reached the record figure of 5.4 billion euros last year, thanks to an increase of 16.4% over one year, according to the Portuguese Textile Association (ATP). This success is also explained by the ability of the sector to “adapt to the market” which, after the disruptions due to the health crisis, now prefers “local production chains”, underlines the president of the ATP, Jorge Machado.

The region of Vila Nova de Famalicao has thus been equipped for thirty years with a technological institute for textiles and clothing, which works on new fibers produced from recycled materials or dyes made from natural products.

A very energy-intensive sector

However, the surge in gas and electricity prices caused by the war in Ukraine is seriously penalizing a sector that consumes a lot of energy. Despite the aid of several billion euros announced by the Portuguese government to support companies, textile manufacturers are calling for a coordinated plan at European level to avoid distortions of competition. This “would avoid creating competition” between European countries, also observes the director general of the European Confederation of Clothing and Textiles (Euratex), Dirk Vantinghem.

(AFP)

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Durable and inexpensive, “made in Portugal” textiles are back in fashion