The textiles sector manufactures fabric from natural and man-made fibres. Typically this involves processes such as stripping, blending, dyeing and weaving or knitting. The fabric manufacturing process may include preparing and dyeing the yarns to be used, assembling the yarn into fabrics, dyeing and printing the fabrics, and applying a range of treatments to the fabric.
Within Australia the sector is a mix of high and low technology, reliant on unskilled and semi-skilled labour. There is strong competition from countries with lower compliance and labour costs. This is a significant threat to the sector within Australia with business numbers dropping as import tariffs have been reduced since the mid 1970s.
Many different treatments and finishing processes are used in the sector. These include sizing and de-sizing, mercerising, bleaching, singeing, fire retardant and anti-static treatments, washing or spot cleaning, drying and pressing. These typically consume energy and water and result in handling of chemicals and other agents and contaminated waste water.
Dryers, presses and other machinery use significant electricity, exposing businesses to high costs and the Carbon Price. However, Australia innovates and competes well in fabric treatments and it is not uncommon for fabric to be manufactured overseas and sent to Australia for ‘finishing’.
There are significant sustainability issues throughout the supply chain, for example, the risk of worker exploitation, use of pesticides and large amounts of water in the farming of natural fibres (such as cotton), use of plastic, paper and cardboard in packaging and the management and disposal of dyes and chemicals.
The mix of sustainability issues will vary between sectors and enterprises. The mix might even vary between work processes in a business. It really depends on the context of market pressures, regulations and the steps that make up the daily routine. And how they all interact with the range of social, economic and environmental sustainability issues
There are many different ways to approach understanding the sustainability issues within a sector. Areas of research might include barriers to entry and expansion into markets, drivers of demand for services and products, geographic location, major markets and suppliers, technology and workforce demographics and skills profile.
Sources of information
IBIS World Industry Research Reports
IBIS World Industry Research Reports can be purchased individually or as a subscription. For this sector they include:
- C2210 – Textile Fibre, Yarn and Woven Fabric Manufacturing
- C2221 – Textile Product Manufacturing
- C2222 – Carpet Manufacturing
- C2230 – Knitting Mills
- C2260 – Leather and Leather Substitute Product Manufacturing