In the last blog entry I made at the end of the highly successful and enjoyable ITMA 2011 in Barcelona, I mentioned in passing that I started work in the textile publishing industry in 1995, as deputy editor of Textile Month.
I was just too late for that year’s ITMA in Milan, but I was informed I’d be reporting on the next show in Paris in 1999.
Only back then, the idea of thinking four years’ ahead was inconceivable – let alone the idea that I’d still be writing about the textile machinery industry in 1999.
Or, for that matter, in 2015, when the show finally returns to Milan.
These days, I’m rather happy to say I’m still here!
Looking back at issues of Textile Month from 1995 it’s clear there have been many major changes in the textile machinery business, but with hindsight, these have all been rather consistent with general market trends.
“Why is the ITMA still held in Europe, given that there has now been a migration of much of the textile industry to Asia?” asked Textile Month editor Phil Owen, back then.
For it seemed inevitable that such a move would eventually be made, even as now-extinct textile machinery companies such as Mackie International and Crosrol were winning export awards in the UK, Hollingsworth totally dominated the American landscape and a considerable number of French, German, Italian and Swiss firms – many of them still family run – had yet to be sucked into much bigger groups or expand into manufacturing operations globally.
In part, this migration is still ongoing, and subsequent to ITMA 2011, a number of leading companies – including Monforts and various businesses previously belonging to Oerlikon – have, for example, come under new Chinese ownership. There have also been further new plants in the region announced by European firms.
As far as ITMA is concerned however, the launch of the first ITMA Asia in Singapore in 2001 established a new pattern of major ITMA events on a more regular basis, providing the best of both worlds – the tradition and heritage Europe has to offer alternating with the excitement and opportunity of Asia on a regular basis.
Prêt-à-porter and digital printing
Nowhere is that tradition and heritage more apparent perhaps, than in Milan. It’s home to some of the biggest names in the fashion world, to start with – Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada, Valentino and Versace among them.
And being synonymous with the Italian prêt-à-porter industry, Milan will be the perfect setting for showcasing the sophisticated technologies now coming to the fore in textile and garment manufacturing.
Most notable here, is the move to digital printing.
Vivid outdoor night scenes captured by photographer Axel Schmies have been digitally printed in wide format on the fabrics of Germany’s Junkers & Müllers
Although Italy now represents at most 3% of the world’s printed textiles by volume, both its value and influence are considerably higher.
In general, applications for industrial soft signage have been responsible for much of the growth in digital textile printing worldwide to date – and despite growth rates of around 25% annually, it is still comparatively tiny, representing around just 1.5% of the overall textile printing market.
Screen printing still dominates in the major markets of fashion and home textiles in the key manufacturing markets such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey.
Estimates as to the overall size of the textile printing market put production at between 29 billion and 35 billion square metres in 2012, with the variation accounted for by the difficulty of obtaining accurate data from China. Overall, printed textile growth is around 2.5% annually, while digitally printed product in 2012 has been estimated to be around 400 million square metres, excluding China.
The high-end fashion industry centred around Milan and Como in Northern Italy, however, has already made a widespread conversion to digital technology.
As such, the key to growth for the digital printing industry is to persuade the other major textile printing countries to follow Italy’s lead.
3D print effects created with 2D techniques by Italy’s Eurojersey
Turkey is expected to be first in this respect. As a major textile printing market, Turkey supplies both home textiles – specifically bed linen – and fashion prints to the European and US markets. Its annual printed textile output is in the region of 5.2 billion square metres, making it the third largest after China and India.
All the indications are that Turkey will be the first mass textile market to move significantly into digital printing. There is already a well-established industry using small-scale production machines and more recently there have been notable investments in larger, high-production machines. China, India and other leading textile producers in both Asia and South America will be likely to follow.
3D printing and beyond…
Subsequent to ITMA 2011 there have been further developments in what’s possible with digital technology, most notably with the advent of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing.
This has been the subject of considerable attention over the past couple of years, but despite its many advantages – not least the 100% elimination of waste – has yet to be adopted for textiles, since its raw materials are hard plastics as opposed to textile fibres or filaments.
By the time ITMA 15 comes along, however, this will have changed.
A dress has already been made by designer Francis Bitonti for New York Fashion Week this year based on a new polyester filament commonly employed for medical sutures and specialised nonwovens and adapted for 3D printing.
Francis Bitonti’s 3D dress made for this year’s New York Fashion Week
The creation of the Verlan Dress involved around 400 hours of printing on tiny systems that are the new equivalent of desk-top printers, but the dress has drape and texture for the first time, and the technology is still in its infancy.
Another thing that may change rapidly in the next couple of years is the type of raw materials that fibre manufacturers are running through their systems.
There is currently a lot of excitement about so-called ‘drop-in’ polymers as the basis for synthetic materials. Again, these have been initiated in the plastics industry, but show every sign of migrating across to textiles. I’ll go into more detail on this subject in my next entry here.