Nos países industrializados assistiu-se a uma importante transformação da estrutura do retalho, da distribuição ao consumidor, com o aumento da concentração do mercado em grandes cadeias de lojas associadas a marcas nacionais ou internacionais.
Esta tendência de concentração a nível da distribuição não teve paralelo no sector produtivo que continua muito fragmentado e dominado por PMEs.
"Developing and emerging economies on the other hand become clothing manufacturing locations of choice as their economic and financial systems improved, their industrial and logistic infrastructure was developed rapidly and a massive migration of rural work force to the industrialising cities and development zones provided an abundance of cheap manual labour for a manufacturing system that does not required very high levels of skill and knowledge from its production workers. In some emerging countries like China, India, Pakistan or Turkey the expanding clothing manufacturing sector also increasingly benefits from abundant local supplies of textiles thanks to the build-up or massive expansion of textile-production capacity from fibre - mostly cotton and man-made fibres such as polyester - often led by government-owned companies or private companies benefiting from privileged access to public funding.
Globally sourcing retailers and wholesalers massively exploited this opportunity for significant reduction of their purchasing prices to the detriment of textile and clothing manufacturers in industrialised countries which due to their higher input costs (labour, capital, energy, environmental and consumer-protection compliance, etc) were increasingly unable to match prices offered by developing country producers. This led to constantly shrinking margins, thousands of company closures and contributed significantly to the job losses that occurred over the last two decades. Despite this, the EU textile and clothing industry in 2007 still employed 2,5 million people across some 160,000 companies generating a combined annual turnover in excess of 210 billion Euros.
In order to stay competitive companies have been undergoing continuous restructuring and modernisation processes. As part of these processes they often invested heavily in new technology, research, product development and innovation capacities, resulting in continuous and recently accelerating productivity growth.
The industry's response of a major shift of manufacturing to low labour costs countries often far away from the point of sale/consumption of the final product has in turn introduced additional complexities, risks and costs. Long lead times, challenging logistics and quality assurance procedures, a lowly skilled work force as well as a higher vulnerability to IPR infringments plague these operations sometimes coupled with political or social instability or higher economic and financial volatility in these off-shore manufacturing countries. The related costs and risks are borne by manufacturers and distributors alike and also limit tem in the adoption of new business models based on:
- ultra-fast response to end market changes;
- deeply consumer involved industrial scale customisation and personalisation of products;
- smart flexible networking in open value chains and business communities;
- use of the latest b2b and b2c e-business technologies.