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Published: November 2012
This study presents a global supply and demand analysis of natural fibers (cotton and wool) and man-made fibers (synthetic fibers and cellulosic fibers), broken out by major world regions.
By the year 2000, global fiber demand for man-made fibers had displaced natural fibers as the leader. In 2011, man-made fibers accounted for 64% of total textile fibers consumed, up from just 44% in 1990. However, rather than natural fibers being replaced, blends of synthetic and natural fibers became preferred for their easy care properties. In particular, blended polyester/cotton is the most preferred fabric for apparel, known for breathability, comfort, colorfastness, wrinkle-resistance and shape retention.
China is the largest manufacturer of synthetic fibers in the world. In 2012, it represented 65% of global production. India is the second-largest producer, with an 8% share of global production. India surpassed Taiwan and the United States as a fiber powerhouse in the mid-2000s, thanks to a huge polyester fiber capacity buildup. Taiwan, the United States, and Western Europe round out the top five synthetic fiber–producing areas in 2012.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of synthetic textile fibers:
Although Asia's fiber industry remains export-driven, domestic demand for textile products in the region is growing as a result of higher wages and rising disposable income. Similarly, Latin America is emerging as a fast-growing area for textile consumption. In particular, Brazil is becoming the Latin American "Paris" as more and more young consumers, with rising disposable incomes, show a preference for high-fashion garments.
High-performance fibers are successfully being used in apparel, home furnishings and industrial applications. Microfibers and specialty high-end blends used in apparel are generally targeted to high-income individuals. As a result, demand for high-end gowns and specialty home textiles remains solid. While high-end industrial fibers going into automotive applications have been hard hit, in general high-end industrial products are produced to meet specific criteria and are not quickly, or easily, replaced by lower-cost, competing fibers. As a result, high-performance, high-value-added specialty fibers are better able to ride out temporary market slowdowns.
Fear of economic difficulties can derail consumer spending. The U.S. market is a prime example of how a stagnant labor market and mounting consumer debt can negatively impact consumer spending. At the peak of the recession, individuals reduced expenses and moved disposable wages into savings. Significant home foreclosures and the subsequent declines in home sales negatively impacted demand for textile goods, and rising unemployment contributed to the huge decline in new automobile sales. Despite the government's massive stimulus package of 2009, the U.S economy remains sluggish. In addition, the lingering eurozone debt crisis, plus a weakening Chinese economy, are all contributing to muted growth in the short term.
Political instability can also contribute to reduced demand for textile goods. The economic upheaval experienced in Eastern Europe during the 1990s and more recently in the Middle East are examples of market destabilization. As a result of ongoing political strife in some countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, textile demand in these areas is expected to remain depressed in the near term.
Major cotton and wool producing regions of the world are highly susceptible to climatic conditions and pest infestations. India for one is starting to see a massive reduction in snowmelt in the Himalayas, which is contributing to less available water in downstream rivers and irrigation systems. The United States experienced reduced cotton crops in 2011 as a direct result of drought. Other countries that may be affected include most of the African and Middle Eastern nations. Although further into the future, there is some speculation that water restrictions may turn cotton fiber into a higher-priced, specialty fiber.