New beginnings in a post-pandemic world
Fiera Milano RHOMilan . Italy
Collaborative, market-oriented innovation is essential to ensuring the long-term competitiveness of the European Union’s textile and clothing industry.
While research and disruptive technological advances are largely pioneered in the universities and research centres – as well as internally by a few of the bigger companies – continuous, often customer-driven technological, creative and service innovation is strategic for the majority of the textile SMEs and mid-caps we work with.
As sustainability and circularity assume ever greater importance across all industries, textile and clothing R&D activity is focused on many facets of it, including the use of more sustainable materials – whether biobased, renewable, or recycled – and of cleaner and more energy and water-efficient processing technologies.
The tracking, measuring and communication of sustainable performance has also become of equal importance, while the demand for more efficient flexible, small-scale, on-demand production has led to the ongoing development of digital microfactories.
This is leading to the re-shoring of production in some areas, for faster, customised, closed-loop products, as well as the establishment of direct-to-consumer businesses for smaller brands and manufacturers, powered by the benefits of digital printing and related technologies. The biggest impediment to more near-shoring of textile and clothing production is not lack of market demand or technology readiness, but the extreme shortage of skilled labour that is almost universal across Europe.
In addition, start-ups are now having a much bigger impact on the R&D landscape than in the past, with many new brands, direct-to-consumer businesses and platforms coming from the digital world, including those involved in the development of sustainable materials, recycling initiatives and smart and technical textiles.
Driven by this forward motion, the ETP launched its latest SmartX programme with a focus on projects exploring the integration of textiles and electronics.
The programme has been very successful from the start, with over 300 expressions of interest from potential applicants, 125 full applications and 25 funded projects with 50 companies from across Europe.
All of these projects are currently running and all results will be made available in April 2022.
Some of the first success stories have already been published online at www.smartx-europe.eu/funded-projects, with more to follow.
The ETP is most excited about the fact that all of the projects selected have near-term market potential, based on sound technologies and business models. As such, they are poised to have an instantly positive impact on the European smart textiles manufacturing value chain.
The SmartX programme is based on cascade funding from the European Union which has a number of advantages. It is small-scale funding to a maximum of €60,000 per company, so is very suitable for quick, close-to-market projects. The application process is very simple and the timeframe from application to project start is just between two-to-three months.
As part of the programme, detailed free-of-charge coaching support and feedback has been provided to both successful and unsuccessful applicants and continuous coaching of funded projects is being provided throughout the one-year duration of the project.
Apart from the EU-funded SmartX project, three other internal programmes of the ETP are currently underway. These are the strategic programmes on the Circular Economy and Bio-Based Fibres as well as the Smart Textile Innovation Masterclass. The latter started in April 2021 and is still open to subscribers at: www.textile-platform.eu/smart-textiles.
Generally, we have witnessed an acceleration of innovation in textiles in recent years, a rediscovery of the advantages of rapid, transparent, high-tech enabled local production, new brands and new forms of engagement with end consumers that favour smaller more customised production lots. There has also been a realisation that strategic sovereignty in the manufacturing of key product categories such as PPE, medical or defence products is of high value. The upcoming EU strategy on sustainable textiles should bring even stronger policy and funding support to the industry in Europe.
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