Bertram Rollmann, vice-president of the Bulgarian textile and apparel association

Bertram Rollmann, vice-president of the Bulgarian textile and apparel association

Even though Bulgaria hosts the largest textile and apparel industry in the Balkans, local executives are wary about its future, amid falling exports and a shortage of workers.

The sector currently has around 5,400 companies (more than 4,700 in apparel) employing 113,260 workers. This is 5% of all employees in Bulgaria.

However since 2007, when employment stood at 162,789 and textile and apparel exports peaked at EUR1.9bn, the sector has diminished considerably, although apparel orders from Bulgaria' s main markets (Germany, Italy, Greece) have picked up since March 2010.

But according to Bertram Rollmann, vice-president of the Bulgarian textile and apparel association BAATPE, and CEO of Pirin-Tex, Bulgaria's largest clothing company with 2,200 employees, the sector urgently needs 25,000-30,000 more workers.

But in spite of high unemployment in the country, recruiting new workers is difficult. Young people prefer easier jobs in offices and shops.

Valeria Jekova, chairwoman of BAATPE, regrets that the Bulgarian government underestimates the economic and social importance and the potential of the sector.

After all, Bulgaria's apparel producers offer advantages including flexibility and proximity to European markets. Though around half of the companies now pay wages exceeding EUR200 per month, the Bulgarian cut-make price of EUR0.06-0.08 per minute is still very competitive.

By Jozef De Coster.