Textiles Year in Review

November 22, 2021

This year, 2021, has certainly had its ups and downs. We thought we had a handle on the pandemic, but surges kept coming. However, there were not as many lockdowns as we saw in 2020, and that reflects the fact that we are beginning to learn to live with the COVID-19 virus, which seems like it is not going away anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the global supply chain, which was already under pressure even before the pandemic struck, has seen even more pressure. According to an Insider report from early October, nearly half a million 20-foot shipping containers — or about 12 million metric tons of goods — were waiting in drift areas and at anchor in Southern California alone, for spots to open up along the port to dock and unload. This glut is due to several factors – shortages of labor and ground transport, as well as the fact that container ships carry more containers than ever before, and ports simply are not configured to handle the increased volume, even if labor and transport were available. It appears the end of the backlog is nowhere in sight. You can be sure that along with Christmas toys getting a lot of press, there are tons of textile and apparel products in those containers as well.

This further cracking of a fragile global supply chain has moved brands and retailers to step up any plans they had for three to five years out, placing increased focus on this issue, including not only the shipping backlog, but the state of relationships with key offshore suppliers that were damaged as orders were cancelled and contracts were ignored during the height of the pandemic. There has also been increased interest in reshoring at least some production in Europe and North America. The UK seems to be leading the charge in this respect. The only way these developed countries can really compete is to implement more digital technologies.

That’s been a boon to manufacturers of digital textile direct-to-fabric and direct-to-garment printers, who have been busy bringing new products and technologies to market. Here are a few of the highlights.

Durst launched the 5 TEX iSUB textile printer with in-line sublimation and also garnered the prestigious Pinnacle InterTech Award for this product. At the heart of the Durst P5 TEX iSUB is the integrated inline fusing for direct printing on polyester fabrics. It is also suitable for printing to transfer paper.

EFI Reggiani launched three new multi-pass printers this summer with a fourth expected before the end of the year, as well as significant updates to its single-pass BOLT. The new printers include BLAZE, designed to give textile companies the opportunity to enter the digital textile printing market with a compact solution; TERRA Silver, a pigment printer that debuted at FESPA; and HYPER, pegged by the company as the fastest multi-pass textile printer on the market.

Epson brought a number of new products to market, most notably the SureColor F10070H 76-inch-wide dye sublimation printer, which the company says it is offering at a lower cost than comparable solutions.

Kornit recently upped its direct-to-garment (DTG) game with announcement of the Kornit Atlas MAX printer, incorporating new technology that allows much more detail to be printed on garments than before. MAX technology is expected to be available for direct-to-fabric printing in the future. The company is also expanding its footprint further across the workflow with acquisitions and organic development, including the acquisition of Voxel8 that adds 3D printing with special materials to fabric printing.

Mimaki continues to add to its portfolio of textile printers, with the addition of the TS100-1600 to its "100 series" portfolio. This affordable, high-quality system is ideal for printers looking to add their first digital sublimation printing solution or expand their production capacity. The company also launched the Tiger-1800B MkIII - the latest model of this high-speed, high-volume industrial textile printer range. Available as a high-quality direct-to-textile (reactive or direct sublimation) or sublimation transfer printing solution.

Ricoh is showing off the latest version of its Ri 1000 Direct to Garment printer that now offers Film Transfer printing capabilities via its new Print Mode White, which is retrofittable to equipment already installed. Film Transfer printing benefits include working with materials that are not suitable for DTG such as water repelling surfaces and is suitable for both natural and synthetic fabrics.

Roland DGA announced the launch of its new Texart XT-640S – a multi-station direct-to-garment printer. It can print on multiple T-shirts at the same time, or can be used for printing on items like towels, blankets, jeans, jackets, décor and more.

Along with the introduction of new printing equipment, suppliers to the industry are also introducing new inks (with a focus on pigment inks), coatings, fibers, software and workflow solutions, cutting and sewing solutions and more. All of which are expected to experience good growth as the market turns to digital textile printing to enhance production of at least some of its volume – still a single-digit percentage of overall printed fabrics, but a percentage we hope to see experience a growth spurt over the next year or two.

And fabric printing is not the only segment to benefit from reshoring and digital technologies. The nonwovens market has seen a boost, initially due to increased demand for PPE during the pandemic. But the industry is also finding lots of new uses for nonwoven products, and we understand that some of the abandoned textile factories that resulted from the move to offshore manufacturing toward the end of the last century have now been refitted as manufacturing for nonwovens.

Knitting is another area of advances. Evolution St. Louis is a great example of a company that is taking advantage of the latest in flatbed knitting technology to help brands and retailers bring production back to the United States.

“Prior to COVID-19, over 95% of clothes sold in the United States were imported from overseas," according to the company. " The pandemic disrupted production and shipping overseas, with billions of dollars of clothing orders canceled and countless brick-and-mortar stores closed in the past 12 months. Evolution St. Louis’ industry-leading flatbed knitting machines can produce whole garments, knit-to-shape, fully fashioned knits and complex shapes, as well as footwear, smart and technical textiles. The company also offers full-package services, including raw material sourcing, merchandising, technical design and product engineering. Linking, sewing, finishing and on-site inventory, logistics, packing and shipping are available.”

Another notable development was the acquisition of digital textile printer Spoonflower by Shutterfly, adding increased access to digitally printed textile products for the Shutterfly community while also offering cross-selling opportunities for both organizations.

Apparel is not the only segment benefiting from this rise in interest in digital technologies. According to Trends Market Research, the global home textile products market size is predicted to reach $145 billion by 2030 and anticipated to grow at a rate of 5.7% during the forecast period 2021 to 2030. 

“I did a study recently around sustainability and looked at the rates of refresh of apartments and houses," WhatTheyThink Contributor David Zwang said. "It’s fairly significant, especially when you get into the cities. The availability of marble and wood and all these other things is increasingly more difficult and expensive. You can do a hell of a lot more with ink and with inkjet in terms of creating a lot of this. So from a décor standpoint, I expect that to go a lot faster in terms of growth.”

Another sign we are learning to live with the virus is the back-to-in-person-events trend. China basically never stopped having in-person events, although some were delayed. Most recently, FESPA was held in Amsterdam and by all accounts was extremely well-attended. 

In case you missed it, you’ll also want to listen to our Textiles Update webinar that was conducted in July of 2021. We focused on the growing trend for take-back programs, resale of gently used items, recycling and upcycling which we believe will be of growing importance in 2022 and beyond. 

The last two years clearly presented challenges for the textiles and apparel industry, but it also stimulated new opportunities and an increased focus on sustainability. Looking ahead to 2022, expect to see even more new developments, especially an increase in the launch and use of a wide variety of digital technologies that will help move the industry to a true 21st century global participant.