How is Switzerland able to maintain its position in the luxury textile sector despite the relocations? Thanks to an exceptional know-how and a breakthrough in e-commerce.
In an increasingly competitive environment, Switzerland remains an important player in the textile and clothing industry, even though most production has been relocated abroad.
Appreciated by luxury players, but also in various industries, the textile know-how of Swiss companies continues to have an international influence.
“In haute-couture and technical fabrics, there are huge growth opportunities and the economy is strong,” says Peter Flückiger, Director of Swiss Textiles. Optimistic, the specialist considers that textiles, by its properties (flexibility, lightness, strength), is the “material of the future“, as evidenced by the “infinity” of possible applications.
Industry benefited from increases in exports in the first and second quarters, in textiles (+6.5% year-on-year) and clothing (+33.5%).
The luxury lingerie manufacturer Zimmerli took advantage of this solid economic situation. “We saw our sales increase by 14% last year and growth should be similar this year,” says Marcel Hossli, the family company’s general manager.
Know-how in technical textiles
In technical textiles, a market worth 150 billion francs worldwide, the situation is similar. “The first half of the year was marked by demand exceeding our production capacity,” says Siegfried Winkelbeiner, Managing Director of Schoeller.
The company, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, is benefiting from the demand for its intelligent textiles. Thanks to microelectronics, these sensor-equipped fabrics can be used in medicine, video games, architecture and transport. “The combination of textiles and electronics is creating a new market, the e-textile market,” says Winkelbeiner.
While sales are on the rise for Zimmerli, margins are suffering from the strong franc, with 80% of sales being made abroad, while the company is one of the few to keep its production in Switzerland. “To remedy this, we have repositioned ourselves and raised our prices in euros for new launches,” he explains.
The rise of e-commerce
Zimmerli opened up to e-commerce four years ago and growth has been visible. “About 20% of sales are made online, 13% of which are on our own e-shop,” says the director.
E-commerce is expanding, particularly in Asia. “In Europe, it is difficult to gain market share, but in China, our growth potential is immense,” says the director. In its subsidiary in Shanghai, Zimmerli employs a dozen employees, out of a hundred in the group.
Internationalization is an opportunity for Swiss companies, confirms Mr. Flückiger. Even though companies are producing less and less in the country, it remains a world-renowned competence center. Switzerland is thus extending to other activities such as research and development and design.
“In Switzerland, we concentrate a lot of know-how in a limited space, in textiles of course, but also in electronic components, watchmaking or the machine industry as well as in design and creation,” adds Mr. Winkelbeiner. “Associated with leading research institutes, this environment is ideal for innovation capacity.”
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