Ireland's textile and clothing industries are robustly shaking off their image as a 'sunset industry', and should have a profitable future if they face their global challenges confidently and aggressively.

This was the vision for the future presented at the first all-Ireland textiles and apparel conference held last week at Belfast's Waterfront Hall. A dynamic range of international speakers from Ireland, the UK, the USA and Europe challenged, provoked and revealed the way forward for the sector - but acknowledged that there was more pain ahead in terms of job losses.
Bill Walker, chairman of the Northern Ireland Textiles and Apparel Association and Matt Doolan, chairman of the Irish Clothing and Textiles Alliance, led the rally cry. They believe the industries in the North and South are facing the global challenge head on and many companies are emerging as smarter, creative, innovative and export driven market-led players.

"There are clearly companies North and South who display the world class qualities needed to compete globally and they are already employing many of the techniques and practices debated here today," said Bill Walker. "More and more companies are facing up the challenges posed by world markets and seeing them as opportunities rather than threats.

"While there will undoubtedly be more job losses in the short term it is evident that a more efficient, creative and profitable industry is emerging from the shadow of gloom and despondency which has hung over this sector for far too long.

"There is a greater self belief abroad in an industry which embraces the need to be internationally competitive and that self-belief is pushing companies forward onto the global stage and they are winning business in a tough environment.

"What we have seen and heard today affirms the approach taken by NITA and ICATA in recent years and we look confidently to the future."

Matt Doolan welcomed and saluted the initiative taken in running a joint conference for the sectors North and South.

"The increased level of co-operation can only be good for an industry facing massive international challenges," he said. "We have the talent and wherewithal to excel in the global marketplace and we have the companies who are proving it daily.

"There is a strong determination to produce internationally competitive companies within an industry that is confident about its future. That is beginning to happen and today we have seen and heard the experiences of others around the world.

"Their input has been vital in building a better picture of the opportunities which lie out there and the ways in which we can make the most of them. The title of the conference, 'Function, fashion and future focus' is particularly apt given the diverse range of skills available within the industry on this island.

"Our focus is firmly on the future. We must learn from the events of the past but not be shaped by them. This is a new competitive age and I sense renewed confidence here today to face up to the challenges of the global market place and design a profitable future."