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Future. “Adjective. What is to be, what is to happen or what is to come. What is forecast for a determined state or quality in a proximate time”. There are various facets to dictionary definitions for the word future. They all point towards destiny, to the infinite or even to some Brave New World. In business activities, planning the future, pre-empting scenarios shall always represent an exercise taking place within the scope of encountering new formulas for competitiveness.
We challenged three specialists to sound out the pulse of the textile and clothing sector in Portugal, analysing the recent past and projecting some futurist scenarios. These are their visions.
Rui Lopes Miguel
University of Beira Interior
Rui Lopes Miguel perceives the “textile and clothing industry in Portugal has risen its value on the supply chain to the international fashion sector. Companies have gained greater internal competitiveness in terms of their technological and productive versatility and efficiency”.
The Associate Professor at the Department of Textile Science and Technology of the University of Beira Interior recognises how, in the current scenario, “geopolitics, digitalisation, sustainability and circularity are conditioning industrial activities”. At the business level, there is the need to focus on developments in “green energies, eco-materials and production processes with low resource consumption are the consequence of the high price of fossil energies and strategically sustainable options, such as designing for circularity and eco-engineering”.
Rui Lopes Miguel accepts that “there are signs of a regionalised version of globalisation in keeping with the new trade policies of the major powers and as a defence against geopolitical uncertainties”. To this end, “the new EU legislation on sustainability and product certification for textile and clothing products may leverage the entire European sector. Recycling clothing on a mass scale in order to achieve circularity will generate opportunities”.
According to Professor Lopes Miguel of the University of Beira Interior “Portugal has a textile and clothing cluster with factors of differentiation and uniquely competitive: the regional concentration of companies producing a great diversity of products”. Nevertheless, “to add value, the third competitive factor shall involve raising the level of company knowledge across the fields of management, technology, design, innovation and creativity, marketing and international partnerships”. Finally, it is important to attribute priority “to sustainability and circularity, to act in both the fashion markets and the functional and technical textile markets”.
University of Minho
An identical diagnosis is put forward by Joana Cunha, Assistant Professor in the Schools of Engineering at the University of Minho. “In my view, the Portuguese textile and clothing industry has evolved very positively over the last 15 years, not only in terms of quality, innovation, design and technological development but also as reflected in the global turnover of businesses and their exports”.
In practical terms, “since 2010, we have witnessed the sustained recovery in industrial activities. We today have better qualified companies that invest more in innovation and in developing products with higher added value, hence also better placed to deal with the challenges”.
After two years of the pandemic and amid the Ukraine war, the scenarios currently contain some uncertainty. Joana Cunha points out that the major alterations from the industrial point of view are “at the level of demand for alternative renewable energies that enable the reduction in the high energy costs, the development of processes for tracing products and ensuring transparency to clients and the adopting of the principles of sustainability and especially circularity”. According to this University of Minho professor, “there will be changes in terms of the materials used, the productive processes, the technologies and the organisation in addition to the needs to develop new professional skills in the industry”. Additionally, “there will be the need to implement new management models to make organisations still more flexible and more sustainable not only from the environmental point of view but also economically and socially”.
Joana Cunha defends how “in this new paradigm of sustainability and circularity associated with the European directives for the sector, advancing down this path will require taking advantage of the existing knowledge in the industry and in academia as well as the applied research ongoing in universities and the specialist technology centres”. As regards the development of new professional skills in the industry, we shall witness the development of new teaching and training models based on digital tools and simultaneously more closely focused on life-long learning within a logic of updating knowledge.
According to Joana Cunha, “Portugal is one of the few European countries that still maintain a complete textile chain, right from spinning through to the finished product and thus meets all of the conditions necessary to working for a circular economy and positioning the sector as a benchmark reference partner in Europe”. The professor furthermore highlighted the “strong know-how based on a network of companies and knowledge centres that have everything to gain from working together”.
The Portuguese industry has evolved in a positive way over the last decade and has won over new geographies. Albertina Reis termed that “this evolution is significant whether in technological or in knowledge terms and now perceivable right from design through to production”. According to the Director of the Riopele R&D Department “there was the capacity for reinvention”, complemented by “investment in innovative solutions, diversifying the product lines with a focus on quality and strengthening the bonds between companies, technology centres and universities, thereby raising the competences of the human resources”.
The capacity for development “is the driving motor for companies to remain stronger in the market”, especially in society “that accelerated in keeping with the proliferation of digital supports”. For such reason, from the production point of view, the Portuguese industry will have to accelerate “its process of evolution through diversification, innovation as a high point of the quality and always with added value”. The Director added that the importance of “working in a focused approach to excellence in every production line as well as in the efficiency and effectiveness of processes”.
Artificial intelligence may be a solution “of great support for ensuring production excellence but equally within a logic of reducing costs”. Additionally, there is underway “a great revolution in the field of sustainability”, which ranges from adopting the legislative process through to the capacity to “convert excess textiles from the most diverse origins into new raw materials”. This also requires “reducing the consumption of virgin raw materials and deploying new fibres sourced from wastes, obtaining properties such as biodegradability or fibres with new properties”. Within the scope of this Brave New World, it would be premature to “rethink the ways how we develop fabrics or how we create designs”. “We shall certainly in the future have new intelligent fibres that will enable us to help the survival of the human race and find a better balance with the surrounding environment”.
According to Albertina Reis, the DNA of the textile industry that enables the sector to grow and raise its international profile shall be determinant for its future. “According to our knowledge, our resilience and because we have been capable, competent and innovative”.