The once booming Spanish textile industry is in the doldrums, with production and exports of fibres, yarns and fabrics all slipping in 2003. But several Spanish manufacturers are now fighting back by offering added value properties rather than relying on the virtues of traditional textiles.

Spanish fibres, yarns and fabrics are among the most actively promoted at European trade fairs.

But recently-published figures provide an explanation for these activities amid the current climate in the once booming Spanish textile industry.

Over the 12 months ending 31 December 2003 exports were down by 5 per cent and, specifically, fabric exports down by 8 per cent.

The Spanish point out that they are not alone in suffering reverses in foreign trade, but are merely members of a European "club" which also includes Germany, France and Italy.

Moreover, since two thirds of Spanish textile export sales have traditionally been to fellow EU members any downturn in their neighbours' economies will also adversely affect Spain.

Perhaps harder for Spanish pride - and Spanish manufacturers' pockets - to accept is the loss of home market business, with yarn sales for 2003 down by 2 per cent and fabric business by 10 per cent. During the same period the value of textile imports rose by 15 per cent.

The situation is not helped by currency fluctuations that make imported goods, particularly imports from Asia, even cheaper than in previous years. While a worldwide over supply of textiles and textile related goods further depresses price levels.

Shifting balances between production and consumption can be most clearly illustrated by a look at the latest figures for woven cotton fabrics. Home market consumption last year dipped to 83,751 tons as against 95,241 tons in 2002, while production fell from 99,255 tons in 2002 to 99,000 a year later.

Earnings from both home and export sales of Spanish made textiles last year amounted to 2.976 billion euros as against 3.239 billion euros the previous year.

This downturn has already resulted in job cutbacks within the Spanish textile industry. Over the last 12 months it has shed 4 per cent of its labour force and reduced national production levels of yarn by 3 per cent and fabric production by a little over 5 per cent.

Fighting back
Spanish manufacturers are fighting back by offering added value properties rather than relying on the traditional virtues of traditional textiles.

Biotechnology is the new buzz-word within the industry with UV protection, breathability (even in water repellent fabrics), anti-staining and anti-bacterial properties now being added to the more conventional strengths of easy-care and comfort stretch.

For the Antex group the answer appears to lie in new fibre technology, with Invista's Ingeo spearheading the drive to try out new fibres and yarns.

The company, Spain's leading fibre producer, is also pursuing its research into improved performance acrylics, although at the moment this is directed more towards home than fashion textiles

Among the Spanish fabric manufacturers wholeheartedly adopting the biotechnology route in their latest collections are Textil Santanderina, Nordena and Marquitex.

Elsewhere in the industry the use of microfibres to reduce fabric weights without loss of strength is the route selected by companies like Textil Puig, Ubach, Dimtex and Monretex.

In this sector of the market a particular feature of fabrics destined for summer 2005 is the use of twisted crepe torsion yarns and finishing treatments which increase the tactile appeal, particularly the soft handle of the completed fabrics.

Companies which previously specialised in the production of 100 per cent natural fibre fabrics - particularly silks and woollens - are experimenting with blends with manmade fibres, especially cellulosics. Lyocell and Tencel are among the favourite branded fibres.

Aesthetic factor
Obviously bringing down costs is inspiring such marriages of apparently disparate fibres, but there is also an aesthetic factor at work.

In a season where high fashion has rediscovered the delights of satinised surfaces a rayon input is often used by producers such as Supralan and Textil Dobert to lend lustre to fabrics which would otherwise be matt surfaced.

Cellulosics are also finding additional outlets within the Spanish textile industry in the production of 'new generation' sportswear fabrics, where often the aim is to achieve a glistening 'wet' finish.

Alongside the fashion appeal of sheen surfaces, shape retention throughout the life of the garment is the goal of new branded yarns such as Dow XLA by market leaders like Tavex.

Within the mainstream fashion market Spanish manufacturers are also predicting that summer 2005 will see increased demand for ready (permanently) pleated fabrics and for fabrics with lacquered, calendered or waxed finishes.

Elsewhere the look for summer 2005 centres on rustic effects achieved with the use of fancy yarns or complex weaves with stress on chevrons and apparently irregular check designs.

With finishing becoming ever more important, many leading Spanish manufacturers are investing in their own equipment.

For producers whose strength lies in piece-dyed fabrics, double dyeing with a single pigment to produce iridescent or pearlised finishes is popular, while elsewhere there are burnouts and distressed finishes.

These treatments are no longer reserved simply for plain fabrics but are being applied to prints to give a blurred, smudged or faded look to patterns.

By Sonia Roberts