Published November 2016
Polyester fiber has become the fiber of choice within the textile industry, owing to its physical properties, price, recyclability, and versatility, which offer a unique set of advantages unmatched by any other fiber. Since 1990, overall demand for polyester fibers has grown at a sustained rate of nearly 7% per year globally. Today, the polyester fiber market accounts for about half of the total global fiber market. In 2016, total demand for polyester fibers is dominated by polyester yarn, which accounts for about 68% of overall consumption (with textile filaments having the greatest share of the yarn segment).
The major application for polyester fibers is the production of fabrics, which are further used for the production of apparel, garments, or other finished textile goods. In 2016, the production of apparel covers about half of the polyester fiber end uses. Home furnishings constitute the second-largest end-use sector, accounting for about 25% of the volumes produced globally. Most of the demand is now in Asia (China, India, and Southeast Asia), where the fast-growing textile industry has been consuming increasing amounts of polyester fibers in a chain of textile weaving, dyeing, and apparel-making industries.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of polyester fibers:
Polyester fiber is the single-largest-volume fiber used globally, taking about a 50% share of the overall man-made and natural fiber market. Since 2000, demand for polyester fiber has grown at a sustained average rate of about 5% per year globally, owing to its low cost as well as versatility and relatively large spectrum of applications (from heavy-duty industrial applications to consumer apparel). The main competing fiber for polyester is cotton. As a result, the supply/demand balance in the cotton industry also affects the state of the polyester fiber industry. In 2010 and early 2011, for instance, peak cotton prices seen on the back of a global supply shortage and low stock levels positively affected demand for polyester fibers.
The vast majority of polyester fiber demand now derives from Northeast Asia (69% in 2016), followed by the Indian Subcontinent (10%) and Southeast Asia (6%). Overall, Asia is therefore the largest consuming region globally, with a dominant share destined for the textile industry. China holds by far the major share of consumption in the region and ultimately accounts for 65% of global polyester fiber consumption. The country consumes fibers in the textile weaving, dyeing, and apparel-making industries, and further exports large amounts of finished goods, including apparel, curtains, and bedding, around the world. The abolition of the textile quotas in 2005 has further boosted Chinese exports of apparel and of other textile products.
In other parts of the world such as Western Europe or North America, textile producers have been forced to restructure their businesses because of the large volumes of low-cost fabrics and clothing entering their countries and their inability to compete with it. As a result, within the developed world, textile capacity rationalization or transformation has been the watchword for the past two decades. The Western European and North American share of polyester fiber consumption has declined and remained subdued, accounting for just about 8% of global demand in 2016. Other developed countries such as South Korea or Taiwan have also seen their apparel and textile exports decrease over the past few years, leading to lower polyester fiber demand.
Northeast Asia is expected to remain the major actor on the global polyester fiber stage through 2021, covering about 70% of the new capacity and most of the demand growth. Nevertheless, as Chinese wages are gradually increasing, a gradual shift of textile production toward other less-developed but developing Asian nations is anticipated in the longer run, which is expected to partially limit polyester fiber demand growth in China.
The Indian Subcontinent will also keep its position as the second-largest producing region, and Southeast Asia, capitalizing on its still-low labor costs, will pursue its growth and remain the third actor globally. Outside of Asia, polyester fiber production and consumption will remain extremely limited. By 2021, polyester fibers will still account for roughly half of the global man-made and natural fiber market, although the share is expected to plateau because of the maturing market.
Outside of Asia, polyester fiber production and consumption will remain extremely limited. Developing regions will still ultimately account for the majority of the incremental textile requirements, but the slower pace of economic growth anticipated for these countries—China more particularly—will nevertheless limit polyester fiber consumption growth compared with the past decade. In addition, a slower demand growth rate is now believed to be the "new normal" for the polyester fiber industry as markets gradually mature everywhere.
Over the next five years, the market for polyester fibers is expected to grow at an average rate of about 4% per year on average, broadly aligned with the GDP growth forecast for the emerging world. Current trends in energy, labor costs, freight, and raw material costs, are expected to further advantage polyester fibers over other fibers, further driving demand. In the short term, though, current lower cotton prices may somehow limit polyester fiber demand growth in applications where these products are interchangeable. Asia will remain the focal point of this growth as it will remain the manufacturing center for textiles, clothing, and apparel globally. In all other regions, the polyester fiber market will continue to grow slowly in the range of 1–3% per year on average, particularly in segments that are less affected by inexpensive imports from Asia, such as tire cords or nonwoven fabrics. Textile filaments will remain the fastest growing product because of increasing textile requirements in the emerging world.