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What is the demand for apparel on the European market?

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Europe is a strong apparel market with continuous growth, and is home to some of the world’s biggest and most renowned apparel companies. Europe’s apparel import market was valued at €127.4 billion in 2020, down from 146.9 billion in 2019. A significant drop of 13.3%, which was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a weakening of the international trade. Before 2020, the market grew by an average annual rate of 4.7% from 2016 to 2019. A recovery of the market, back to the sales values of 2019, is expected in 2023.

The biggest European markets include Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, together comprising nearly 75% of all EU apparel imports worldwide and 79.5% of all Intra-EU imports. Poland is a market to watch due to its high import growth and an already sizeable market. Pants is the biggest product segment, but the fastest growing and most attractive product category is Dresses and Skirts, whereas Swimwear and Active Sportswear also represent an interesting new apparel segment recently targeted by the

1. What makes Europe an interesting market for apparel?

Europe is home to some of the world’s biggest and most renowned apparel companies, and has a large and well-performing apparel sector. The World Trade statistical Review 2020 of the World Trade Organization describes the EU as the world’s largest importer of apparel and textiles. It accounted for 21.3% of the world’s apparel and textile imports value in 2019. Based on the Eurostat statistics, the overall European apparel import market was valued at €127.4 billion in 2020 (down from €129.3 billion in 2016). This corresponds to roughly 23.7 billion units of clothing in 2020 (up from 19.2 billion in 2016). The average growth rate since 2016 is still slightly positive, at 0.8% per year. Before 2020, the market grew by an average annual rate of 4.7% from 2016 to 2019. McKinsey’s State of Fashion 2021 predicts that the global apparel industry would return to 2019 levels of activity by the third quarter of 2022 in an early recovery scenario, and by the fourth quarter of 2023 in the late recovery scenario.

All apparel statistics have been analysed using the textile HS codes starting with 61 and 62 and involving the product segments Pants, Baby’s Garments, Shirts and Blouses, Nightwear Intimates, Knitwear, Dresses and Skirts, Suits and Ensembles, Swimwear and Active Sportswear, Denim, and Coats, Jackets and Blazers.

The CBI definition of ‘developing countries’ are all countries listed on the OECD DAC list of ODA recipients

The EU is also a large re-exporter of apparel. A large share of apparel imports from inside EU countries are re-exports of apparel made in developing countries. In 2020, The EU ranked second behind China in textile exports, accounting for 13% of the world’s export value. It exported €97 billion worth of apparel (up from €89.1 in 2016). 50.8% of this value has been exported to other countries in the EU and 49.2% to the rest of the world. The EU apparel exports grew at an average yearly rate of 3.0% between 2016 and 2020. The biggest EU exporters in 2020 were Germany (€14.8 billion), Poland (€6.8 billion), Italy (€6.5 billion), Spain (€6.4 billion), the Netherlands (€6.1 billion), France (€4.2 billion), and Belgium (€3.8 billion). Together, these six countries represented 35.3% of the EU’s apparel exports. Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands have seen the strongest export growth within this group, with an average yearly increase in export value of more than 5%. Poland, which was the eighth largest apparel exporter in the EU in 2018, has become the second largest exporter in 2020, and has grown by 16.5% on average each year.

Private consumption expenditure is an important indicator for the European apparel market, a sector closely linked to the economic conditions. When money is tight, consumers postpone buying nonessential items until they have more disposable income. European private consumption expenditure slightly decreased in 2019 and 2020, reaching a historic low in June/July 2020 due to the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in autumn 2020, the expenditure stabilised again and rose back to pre-COVID levels from 2019. This development offers an unclear picture for the future of the apparel consumption, as the overall expenditure behaviour has increased to the level of early 2019. However, industry experts expect the apparel market to grow further within the next 3-5 years. According to Eurostat, Europeans spent an average of 4.6% of their spending on clothing and footwear in 2019.

Currently, the value of the EU imports is evenly split between apparel originating from inside the EU and apparel originating from outside the EU, at 50.8% and 49.2% respectively. In 2020, developing country suppliers contributed 44.9% of all clothing imports into the EU in terms of value (down from 49.8% in 2016) and suppliers from the rest of the world accounted for 4.3% of the value (down from 6.7% in 2016). The value of EU apparel imports originating in the developing countries corresponded to €57.3 billion in 2020 and has decreased at an average yearly rate of 2.0% since 2016. However, the imports grew at an annual growth rate of 0.8% from 2016 to 2020. This demonstrates that there is a general growing demand for apparel from developing countries, which had been slightly negatively influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been able to recover quickly.

Europe’s Extra-EU apparel imports are dominated by Asian countries with China, Bangladesh and Turkey being the top three exporters together accounting for 27.3% of all apparel imports into the EU. China is the single largest apparel exporter to the EU with 12.2% of the EU imports value in 2020, while its share strongly declined from €21.9 billion in 2015 to €15.6 billion in 2020. It is followed by Bangladesh with 9.5% and Turkey with 5.5%. Other top 10 exporters from outside the EU have import shares between 1-3% of the overall value. Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Myanmar each increased their shares in the EU apparel imports between 2015 and 2020. Myanmar has been the fastest grower, with a yearly apparel imports value increase of 39.4%, taking its exports from €349 million in 2015 to €1.8 billion in 2020. This example highlights the potential for other, previously unnoticed developing countries to import to the EU.

Table 1: Top 10 Extra-EU and Intra-EU exporters to EU, 2020

Country

Value (EURO)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

Top Extra-EU Exporters

China

€15.6 billion

-6.6%

Bangladesh

€12.1 billion

+1.2%

Turkey

€7.0 billion

-0.7%

United Kingdom

€3.7 billion

+1.0%

India

€2.8 billion

-5.0%

Vietnam

€2.3 billion

+2.2%

Cambodia

€2.3 billion

+1.3%

Pakistan

€1.9 billion

+4.0%

Morocco

€1.9 billion

-1.9%

Myanmar

€1.8 billion

+39.4%

Top Intra-EU Exporters

Germany

€14.8 billion

+7.4%

Poland

€6.8 billion

+16.5%

Italy

€6.5 billion

+2.3%

Spain

€6.4 billion

+3.7%

The Netherlands

€6.1 billion

+5.1%

France

€4.1 billion

+1.3%

Belgium

€3.8 billion

-1.8%

Denmark

€2.3 billion

+2.1%

Portugal

€1.5 billion

-3.5%

Romania

€1.3 billion

-6.5%

Source: Eurostat

Bangladesh and the United Kingdom have been the only exporters of the top 5 Extra-EU exporters to grow in the last 5 years. From 2016 to 2020, China registered an average annual decline of 6.6% and Vietnam, Cambodia and Pakistan grew between 1.3% and 4.0%, respectively. Those dynamics show the growing opportunity for other developing countries to increase their apparel exports to the EU, while China is expected to further decrease in market shares.

The production in China is becoming increasingly expensive due to labour force shortages, and the trade war with the United States. In addition, the Chinese government has also introduced new environmental legislations following their signature of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2020. The country’s higher environmental standards are predicted to force over 80,000 Chinese factories to shut down. The decline in Chinese exports is affecting the global supply chains for many companies. Additionally, the Chinese apparel market strongly suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, productions were partly stopped, and imports were cut short.

Apparel manufacturers are increasingly shifting their business to countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Although China will for the moment remain one of the largest suppliers of fabrics, accessories, trims and high-value apparel, its fast fashion volume business is expected to shift to other developing country suppliers.

Europe’s Intra-EU apparel imports are dominated by Germany, Poland, and Italy, with these three countries accounting for 22.1% of all apparel imports value into the EU in 2020. They are followed by Spain with 5.4%, the Netherlands with 5.1%, and France with 3.5% of market share. Together, these top 6 countries account for 35.3% of all Intra-EU exports. Poland is expanding its influence in the market; with the second largest value of Intra-EU exports, and still experiencing average growth of 16.5%, it is expected the country will expand its positioning as second largest exporter while Germany is expected to remain the leading country due to its size.

While the Intra-EU exports grew by an average of 3.9% annually, Extra-EU sales decreased by 1.9% due to the import restrictions established during the COVID-19 pandemic: While the market grew by an average growth rate of 2.8% between 2015 and 2019, the results of 2020 have negatively influenced the development. However, these figures are expected to recover once the economy has succeeded in adapting to the situation. Intra-EU imports are still growing at the same time.  

Europe is an interesting market for sustainable apparel and wearable technology

Sustainability and fair trade

A product category experiencing stable growth in the EU, is the sustainable apparel category, also known as organic fashion or eco-fashion. This category includes apparel products that are designed, created, and produced ethically and responsibly, with consideration to the environmental and social impact they have throughout their life span.

Key factors of sustainable apparel production/distribution include the material, which is aimed to be animal-friendly, CO² neutral and organic, the production conditions for the manufacturers, who must be paid fairly and ethically organised (for example in terms of working hours and anti-child labour), as well as the packaging and distribution of the products, which should be as nature friendly as possible. In order to facilitate the identification of such products, several labels and certificates have been established that aim to prove the products’ sustainability. Consumers in Europe are actively demanding the certification of sustainable and fair-trade products.

Europe, and in particular Northern Europe, remains one of the most interesting markets in the world for sustainable apparel exports. This is due to the fact that sustainability awareness and initiatives in Europe are growing at multiple levels at once: among consumers, manufacturers, retailers, as well as governments and non-governmental organisations.

There is no specific trade or production data for sustainable apparel because sustainability applies to all product categories and is currently not tracked in terms of value or volume. However, the adoption of sustainable fashion by large fashion retailers like H&M, Zara, Mango, and the growing number of purely sustainable fashion brands in Europe show the growing importance of sustainable fashion in the market. Industry experts expect the market to grow further and to hold high market shares in the future.

Additionally, there are regulatory initiatives at national and European level to promote sustainability, such as the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile and the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. On the supply side, the number of sustainable brands is growing, and all the leading labels and retailers are implementing various sustainability strategies and measures. For more information on Sustainable Apparel, visit CBI’s Trends analysis, CBI Buyer Requirements and CBI’s study on Sustainable Apparel.

High-tech apparel

Another product category emerging in the EU are wearable technologies and smart clothing. These categories comprise apparel products that can be worn on the body, either as an accessory or as part of the material used in clothing. Examples of wearable technology include fitness tracking bands (for example Fitbit, Runtastic, Mio, Misfit), smart sports bras, smart watches (for example Apple Watch), smart glasses (for example Google Glass and Sony’s SmartEyeGlass), wearables for pets and outerwear such as jackets with built-in LEDs.

According to the IDC, Europe’s wearable technology market is expected to reach €168.4 million in 2025 and will grow at an annual average growth rate of 12.9% between 2020 and 2025. On global terms, the market is expected to grow to a value of €366 billion by 2026. However, the smart clothing segment is not growing very quickly in Europe yet due to low public awareness. Some analysts think that smart clothing is the future of the market, and will play a major role as the world becomes more digitalised.

Key drivers of the market are the growing share of elderly people as well as the growing trend of fitness and sports wear in Europe. Additionally, disabilities can be better treated, and insurances or funds support the purchase of items and apparel that is supporting the daily life of disabled or chronically sick persons in the region.

COVID-19 and Brexit are reshaping the European apparel market

In 2020, several market developments and companies’ strategic moves have influenced the industry. These developments are expected to shape the market of the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic is dominating apparel trade flows

The COVID-19 pandemic is strongly influencing the sales and processes within all segments of the fashion industry in 2020. In most European countries, local shops had to close during lockdowns, depending heavily on support payments from the governments. Most also offered heavy discounts and shifted their sales to digital channels.

According to industry experts, the pandemic can have a long-term impact on market dynamics. Asian countries are expected to lose stakes, while African companies or companies from other regions could use the opportunity to win market shares by supplying the fashion brands fast and more reliably. Additionally, the pandemic created new trends and demands within the consumers; for example, some Chinese manufacturers have been observed providing buyers with bio-antibacterial fabrics. All in all, imports of hygiene items (like face masks and protective clothing) have enormously increased, while other apparel segments have dramatically lost stakes.

Brexit creates great uncertainty

As the United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020, new trade agreements for all product categories, including apparel, were needed to upkeep business partnerships with countries located in the European Union, but also all former partners worldwide. However, the country has decided to leave the European Union without a specific deal with the EU.

According to a study by the University of Leuven, commissioned by the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex), the no-deal Brexit might lead to job losses of over 100,000 persons in the remaining 27 countries in the European Union and over 27,000 in the United Kingdom. The most affected countries in the European Union include Italy, Romania, Portugal, Germany, France, Spain, and Poland.

Considering the figures of the ITC Trademap, the United Kingdom has already felt the consequences of Brexit in combination with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020: the value of overall apparel imports decreased from €22.5 billion in 2019 to 19.6 billion in 2020, which is an annual decrease of 10.4% within one year. From 2016 to 2020, the country experienced an average annual growth rate of 1.8%.

In comparison with the countries in the EU, the import values of the United Kingdom lie right behind Germany, and would likewise take second place in the Top 10 of the European Union, if it was a member of the Union. Due to Brexit and the interconnected withdrawal from the European Union, the country is not required to share its official figures with Eurostat anymore, making an official comparison of product segments and product quantities impossible. 

At this point, the long-term consequences of Brexit cannot be foreseen. However, the country has recently experienced dramatic shortages in supermarkets and workforces, which is stopping the country from recovering from the high phase of the pandemic and could turn out to be long-term issues.

In the meantime, the European Union has initiated an EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which is supposed to facilitate trade between the countries of the Union and the United Kingdom, but cannot replace the trade relationship the countries had before Brexit. In 2021, the United Kingdom established trade agreements with non-EU countries around the world. The government hopes these agreements will help the economy to recover in the long term.

Online fashion retailers will become industry leading

Online fashion retailers have won major market shares since the beginning of the pandemic. Key reasons are the sanitary regulations and lockdowns in many (European) countries and the interconnected increasing consumption of products online. According to the European Commission, the share of digital sales has increased from 62% in 2015 to 72% in 2020. The Netherlands is leading the digital sales within the European Union with a more than 90% share of digital sales, while the United Kingdom reached a very similar share in 2020.

The statistics show that clothes, shoes, and accessories were the most popular digitally purchased products in the European Union in 2020. An average of 64% of the European population is estimated to have purchased similar products on the internet during this time. Following, only 32% of the consumers have purchases films and streaming services online.

Amazon has become one of the leading fashion retailers since the beginning of the pandemic and the interrelated shift to online web shops due to lockdown and store restrictions. This has been seen especially in selected European countries with no great leading digital retailers, like Spain and Italy. Due to this this ongoing success, Amazon has also decided to extend its own fashion roadshow to several countries in Europe. In the future, the company is expected to further extend its involvement in Europe. According to Amazon’s new Head of Amazon Fashion Europe, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain belong to the current key target markets of the company.

Tips:

  • Inform yourself about niche markets, such as sustainable and high-tech apparel, since these markets offer lower obstacles for market entry in Europe at the moment. Articles such as CBI’s content on exporting sustainable apparel to Europe or McKinsey’s article on the future of sustainable fashion and the company’s article on the future of fashion can help you to understand the niche market and identify room for action from your side.
  • Observe the market in terms of the use of new (high-tech) technologies in the apparel market.
  • Be aware of the social role of apparel today: Any collaboration with partners should be intensively background checked before getting into an agreement. If the public raises concerns about your partner’s fairness and sustainability it might directly impact your business as well. Also, make sure to act as sustainably and fairly as possible, to be seen as a model business by consumers and your trade partners in Europe.
  • If you are interested on the potential of recycled fashion, check out CBI’s study on the European market potential for recycled fashion.
  • Further tips and information on the impact of the coronavirus have been collected and can be found in the CBI news item ‘Running an apparel factory in times of Coronavirus’.
  • Keep an eye on the development of the United Kingdom, especially if you want to export your knitwear to the United Kingdom. Check how free trade agreements are impacted, and whether you will be subject to new tariffs or other procedural export difficulties. Visit the website ‘Brexit: New rules are here’ for more information on the impact of the Brexit to your business.

2. Which European markets offer most opportunities for apparel exporters?

Western European apparel markets are much larger than the Central and Eastern European markets. The top 6 apparel import markets in the EU are Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. While some Eastern European countries are growing at much higher rates than Western Europe, they are still relatively small in market size. Poland is a market to watch due to its fast growth of imports from the developing countries and an already sizeable market. The country belongs to the top importers to many countries in the European market.

Table 2: Top 10 EU importers of apparel, 2020

Country

Value (EURO)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

Germany

€30.2 billion

+0.9%

France

€17.1 billion

-1.7%

Spain

€14.0 billion

-0.3%

Italy

 €11.5 billion

-1.7%

The Netherlands

€11.4 billion

+0.1%

Poland

€8.7 billion

+13.3%

Belgium

€6.6 billion

-0.6%

Austria

€5.1 billion

+2.1%

Denmark

€3.8 billion

+0.8%

Sweden

€3.6 billion

+1.8%

Source: Eurostat

At €30.2 billion value, Germany was the largest apparel importer in the EU in 2020. It is followed by France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. Together, these top six countries account for nearly 72.9% of the entire EU apparel import market. In the last five years, Poland has been the fastest grower within this group. The value of its apparel imports has grown each year on average by 13.3%. It was followed by Germany with an average growth of 0.9%.

The fastest growing EU markets include Poland, Romania, Czechia, and Hungary with each country growing on average between 5.6% and 13.3%. Despite the fast growth, these four countries together account for only 10.9% of the EU apparel market. The most interesting country from this group is Poland, which by itself accounts for 6.8% of all EU imports, making it the 6th largest importer of apparel in the EU.

The primary apparel exporter to the top six EU apparel markets is still China. Its import market share within the top 6 import market ranges from 18.1% for the Netherlands to 9.8% for Poland. Its share has decreased over the last 5 years in the top 6 European import markets. Other significant exporters include Bangladesh, Turkey, Italy, France, and Germany.

Germany

Germany is Europe’s largest importer of apparel products with a total import value of 30.2 billion, of which €14.3 billion is Intra-EU imports and €15.9 billion is Extra-EU imports. Intra-EU imports grew by 5.6%, while Extra-EU imports decreased by 2.4% at the same time. However, the large increase of Intra-EU imports from 2015 (37.5%) to 2020 highlights the growing trend of importing apparel from other European countries like Poland and the Netherlands.

By comparing the imports of Germany from 2019 to 2020, it becomes clear how much the pandemic has impacted the industry: the import value of apparel decreased from €30.5 billion in 2019 to €30.2 billion in 2020, a decrease of 1.1%. The volume decreased from 4.4 billion units to 4.0 billion. Likewise, the country has indeed been influenced by the trade restrictions and economic issues related to the pandemic, but not as dramatically as the other top 6 countries.  

In total, Germany imports 48.6% of its imports from developing countries. Bangladesh is the largest developing country exporting to Germany. However, China’s share decreased from 19.2% to 11.5% in the last 5 years. However, Poland increased its shares of imports significantly from 7.7% in 2016 to 14.6% in 2020 and is now the largest exporter of apparel to Germany.

Table 3: Germany apparel import details 2020: Import value, volume, and growth

GERMANY

2020 Import value (euro)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

2020 Volume (units)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

€30.2 billion

+0.9%

  4 billion

-0.01%

Major Exporters % share of exports

Poland (14.6%), Bangladesh (12.3%), China (11.5%),

The Netherlands (8.1%), Turkey (7.4%)

Source: Eurostat

Leading apparel brands in Germany include Hugo Boss, Adidas, Escada, Tom Tailor, Jil Sander, Joop!, and PUMA.

The leading apparel retailers in the country include Zalando, C&A, H&M, Peek & Cloppenburg, KiK, New Yorker, Takko, S.Oliver and many others.

France

France is Europe’s second largest importer of apparel products with a total import value of 17.1 billion, of which €8.5 billion is Intra-EU imports and €8.69 billion is Extra-EU imports. While Intra-EU as well as Extra-EU imports both decreased from 2016 to 2020, Extra-EU imports now show a slightly smaller share in the market (50.3 compared to 51.3% in 2016).

By comparing the imports of France from 2019 to 2020, it becomes clear how much the pandemic has impacted the industry: the import value of apparel decreased from €19.4 billion in 2019 to €17.1 billion in 2020, a decrease of 11.8%. The volume decreased from 2.8 billion units to 2.2 billion. Likewise, the country has been strongly affected by the consequences of the pandemic, and much more than Germany has been affected.

In total, France imports 43.6% of its imports from developing countries. China is not only the largest developing country exporting to France, but also remains the country’s biggest exporter of apparel in total. However, China’s share decreased by 4.9% in the last 5 years, while the shares of Bangladesh, Germany, Spain, and Italy increased significantly.

Table 4: France apparel import details 2020: Import value, volume, and growth

FRANCE

2020 Import value (euro)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

2020 Volume (units)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

€17.1 billion

-1.7%

2.2 billion

-3.2%

Major Exporters % share of exports

China (15.2%), Germany (11.5%), Spain (9.7%),

Italy (9.2%), Bangladesh (8.5%)

Source: Eurostat

Leading apparel brands in France include Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Hermès, Balmain, and Lacoste.

The leading apparel retailers in the country Amazon, Decathlon, Galeries Lafayette, Kiabi, La Halle, Camaieu, C&A, H&M and many more.

Spain

Spain is Europe’s third largest importer of apparel products with a total import value of 14.0 billion, of which €3.9 billion is Intra-EU imports and €10.1 billion is Extra-EU imports. While the Intra-EU imports decreased in value by 1.4%, Extra-EU imports grew by 0.1%. 

By comparing the imports of Spain from 2019 to 2020, it becomes clear how much the pandemic has impacted the industry: the import value of apparel decreased from €16.5 billion in 2019 to €14.0 billion in 2020, a decrease of 15.6%. The volume decreased from 2.8 billion units to 2.1 billion. Likewise, the country has been strongly affected by the consequences of the pandemic, more than Germany and France have been.

In total, Spain imports 70.1% of its imports from developing countries. Bangladesh is the largest developing country exporting to Spain, and the largest exporter to Spain in total. However, Bangladesh’s share increased by 3.6% and Turkey’s share by 2.7% in the last 5 years, while the share of China further decreased by 5.4% during the same time.

Table 5: Spain apparel import details 2020: Import value, volume, and growth

SPAIN

2020 Import value (euro)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

2020 Volume (units)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

€14.0 billion

-0.3%

 2.1 billion

-0.81%

Major Exporters % share of exports

Bangladesh (16.4%), Turkey (14.5%), China (13.0%),

Morocco (8.6%), Italy (6.3%)

Source: Eurostat

Leading apparel brands in Spain include LOEWE, DELPOZO, Adolfo Dominguez, Desigual, Bimba y Lola, and Uterqüe.  

The leading apparel retailers in the country El Corte Ingles Group, Mango, Tendam, Stradivarius, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Pull and Bear, Oysho and many more.

Italy

Italy is Europe’s fourth largest importer of apparel products with a total import value of 11.5 billion, of which €5.1 billion is Intra-EU imports and €6.4 billion is Extra-EU imports. While the Intra-EU imports grew in value by 1.0%, Extra-EU imports decreased by 3.6%. 

By comparing the imports of Italy from 2019 to 2020, it becomes clear how much the pandemic has impacted the industry: the import value of apparel decreased from €13.5 billion in 2019 to €11.5 billion in 2020, a decrease of 14.4%. The volume decreased from 1.8 billion units to 1.4 billion. Likewise, the country has been strongly affected by the consequences of the pandemic.  

In total, Italy imports 47.7% of its imports from developing countries. China is the largest developing country exporting to Italy. However, China’s share decreased by 3.9%, while the shares of Bangladesh, Spain, France, and Germany further increased by 1.0-2.9% during the same time.

Table 6: Italy apparel import details 2020: Import value, volume, and growth

ITALY

2020 Import value (euro)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

2020 Volume (units)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

€11.5 billion

-1.7%

 1.4 billion

-2.4%

Major Exporters % share of exports

China (14.2%), Bangladesh (9.6%), Spain (8.8%),

France (8.0%), Germany (4.3%)

 

Source: Eurostat

Leading apparel brands in Italy include Prada, Zegna, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, and Gucci.

The leading apparel retailers in the country are Yoox, Benetton, Calzedonia, H&M, Max Mara, Teddy, Rinascente, and many more. 

The Netherlands

The Netherlands are Europe’s fifth largest importer of apparel products with a total import value of 11.4 billion, of which €5.1 billion is Intra-EU imports and €6.3 billion is Extra-EU imports. While the Intra-EU imports grew at a very high rate (12.9%), Extra-EU imports decreased in value by 6.0%, showing the strong dynamics in the market in the last couple of years.

By comparing the imports of the Netherlands from 2019 to 2020, it becomes clear how much the pandemic has impacted the industry: the import value of apparel decreased from €14.7 billion in 2019 to €11.4 billion in 2020, a decrease of 22.3%. The volume decreased from 2.3 billion units to 1.4 billion. Likewise, the country has been strongly affected by the consequences of the pandemic, more than all other countries of the top 6 import countries have. 

In total, the Netherlands imports 50.8% of its imports from developing countries. China is the largest developing country exporting to the Netherlands, while Germany remains the largest exporter of apparel to the Netherlands. However, China’s share decreased by 8.2%, while the shares of Germany and Spain increased by 8.9% and 2.6% during the same time.

Table 7: The Netherlands apparel import details 2020: Import value, volume, and growth

NETHERLANDS

2020 Import value (euro)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

2020 Volume (units)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

€11.4 billion

+0.05%

1.4 billion

-7.0%

Major Exporters % share of exports

Germany (22.6%), China (16.9%), Bangladesh (10.1%),

Turkey (7.0%), Spain (4.3%)

Source: Eurostat

Leading apparel brands in the Netherlands are Scotch & Soda, Laundry Industry, Mexx, and Viktor & Rolf.

The leading apparel retailers in the country are G Star, WE, C&A, H&M, Zalando, and many more.

Poland

Poland has become Europe’s sixth largest importer of apparel products with a total import value of 8.7 billion, of which €5.5 billion is Intra-EU imports and €2.5 billion is Extra-EU imports. The largest exporter of apparel to Poland is Germany, which was able to increase its share of imports during the last 5 years. While the share of Intra-EU decreased from 72.0% in 2016 to 69.2% in 2020, the share of Extra-EU imports grew from 28.0% to 30.8%.

By comparing the imports of Poland from 2019 to 2020, it becomes clear that Poland has been the only top 6 country to grow despite the pandemic: the import value of apparel increased from €6.9 billion in 2019 to €8.7 billion in 2020, an increase of 24.9% in one year. The volume increased from 1.2 billion units to 1.3 billion.

In total, Poland imports 18.5% of its imports from developing countries. Bangladesh is the largest developing country exporting to Poland. However, Bangladesh’s share is increasing, while the share of China decreased from 11.9% in 2016 to 9.3% in 2020.  

Table 8: Poland apparel import details 2020: Import value, volume, and growth

POLAND

2020 Import value (euro)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

2020 Volume (units)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

€8.7 billion

+13.3%

1.3 billion

+10.8%

Major Exporters % share of exports

Germany (42.8%), Bangladesh (10.7%), Spain (9.8%),

China (9.3%), The Netherlands (3.4%)

Source: Eurostat

Leading apparel brands in Poland are Reserved, House, Cropp, Mohito, and Promostar.

The leading apparel retailers in the country are H&M, Next, Zara, Nike, and many more.

Trade of the EU countries with developing countries

The CBI definition of ‘developing countries’ are all countries listed on the OECD DAC list of ODA recipients

Table 9: Top 10 EU importers from Developing Countries, 2020

Country

Value of Developing country imports

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

Developing country share of imports

Germany

€14.7 billion

-2.7%

48.6%

Spain

€9.8 billion

+0.25

70.1%

France

€7.5 billion

-3.3%

43.6%

Italy

€5.8 billion

-4.2%

50.6%

Netherlands

€5.8 billion

-6.2%

50.8%

Belgium

€3.1 billion

-4.0%

47.6%

Poland

€2.5 billion

+18.1%

29.5%

Denmark

€2.4 billion

-0.3%

64.5%

Sweden

€1.7 billion

-1.2%

47.9%

Austria

€782 billion

+3.2%

15.2%

Source: Eurostat

Developing countries contributed significant shares to the import values of all top six apparel markets, ranging from 15.2% in Austria to 70.1%% in Spain. Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland account for 80.5% of all apparel imports from developing countries. Germany remains the single largest importer by value of apparel from the developing countries. Poland has shown the strongest growth of 18.1% within the last 5 years.

The overall trends for the top six markets show that the export opportunities for the developing countries are generally growing, but has experienced losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related trade restrictions. The strongest growth in imports from the developing countries was observed in Poland (18.1% average yearly growth) and Austria (3.2%%). Poland is slowly becoming one of Europe’s apparel hubs, with both its total imports and imports from developing countries growing the fastest in the top 10 EU apparel markets. Poland’s largest clothing manufacturer is LPP with its umbrella of brands including Reserved, Cropp, House, Mohito and Sinsay.

Although the developing country apparel imports to other Eastern European markets like Hungary (33.9%%) and Slovenia (19.8%) are growing at very high yearly growth rates, the sizes of these markets are still very small in comparison to the top EU markets. Slovenia imported apparel at a value of €188 million and Hungary at €316 million in 2020. The fact that they departed from a relatively low base explains the strong rates of growth, which would be unrealistic for larger importers. In 2020, the developing country apparel import value for countries in Eastern Europe reached between €189 million (Slovenia) and €445 million (for Czechia). Some emerging brands from Eastern Europe include Dzhus, RCR Khomenko, Anna K, The Knotty Ones, Nehera.

Table 10: Average unit prices of Intra and Extra-EU imports of top 6 EU importers; 2020 EUR value; 5-year change

Country

Average Unit Price of Intra-EU imports

Total 5-yr change

Average Unit Price of Extra-EU imports

Total 5-yr change

Germany

€25.38

-€2.84

€10.75

+€1.05

France

€30.92

+€3.03

€8.28

+€0.02

Spain

€20.31

+€2.38

€12.40

+€0.55

Italy

€26.00

-€1.12

€11.29

+€0.70

The Netherlands

€32.09

-€8.64

€11.09

+€4.45

Poland

€15.86

+€5.71

€11.24

+€2.75

Source: Eurostat

The price levels of clothing and footwear vary considerably across the EU Member States, with the highest prices observed in Scandinavia and the lowest prices observed in parts of Southeastern Europe. According to Eurostat, in 2020, the highest prices for apparel were recorded in Latvia (36% higher than the EU average), followed by Austria (33%), and Sweden (24%). Malta was the least expensive country for clothing (21% lower than the EU average), followed by Greece (15%) and Bulgaria (12%).

The average unit prices of imported apparel vary between the top markets and are based on the import origin. Apparel imported from other European countries is typically 1.5-2.6 times more expensive on a unit basis than apparel imported from outside the EU. Latvia has the highest unit prices for extra-EU imports with an average of €9.29 per unit and Greece has the lowest average unit import prices at €1.83 per unit. Latvia, Hungary, and Romania have experienced the biggest decline in the average unit prices for developing country imports over the last five years, whereas countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, and the Netherlands have experienced the greatest growth in prices.

Tips:

  • Focus your export efforts on the top six markets: Germany, Poland, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy because they are both the biggest apparel consumers in Europe and the biggest importers of apparel from developing countries. All these countries have a high acceptance of Extra-EU suppliers. Germany, France, and Spain may be particularly interesting due to the highest average import prices and a positive price evolution over the last five years.
  • Profit from the dynamics in the market that have been caused by the SARS COVID-19 pandemic. As China is already losing market shares to other developing countries, this confusion in the market could turn out to be an important opportunity in the market. You should show off your reliability and product quality to customers in Europe right now.
  • Consider exporting to Poland, as it is currently Europe’s fastest growing importer of apparel and apparel from the developing countries. 
  • Monitor emerging EU markets such as Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Estonia for future cooperation. They are currently too small and expensive, but may offer opportunities in the longer term.
  • Focus on subcontracting for big brands and retailers. Look to cooperate with the fashion retailers and manufacturers that are successful in one or more European countries, for example H&M or the Bestseller brands. Typically, contracts for garment subcontracting are signed at the headquarter (HQ) level. Have your marketing/sales department reach out to major brands for potential subcontracting opportunities.
  • Try to seize the opportunities made by the increasing cost of producing in China. Prepare to extend a competing offer for mass production and start developing your capacities in higher-value items and accessories to provide a cheaper and reliable alternative to Chinese production.

3. Which products from the developing countries have the most potential on the European apparel market?

At €28.6 billion in value, Pants is the largest apparel product category imported into the EU and accounts for 22.5% of all apparel imports. It is followed by Shirts and Blouses, Coats and Jackets, Knitwear and Dresses and Skirts. These five categories together account for 78.3% of all apparel imports to the EU. Dresses and Skirts, Swimwear and Active Sportswear, and Coats, Jackets and Blazers are the fastest growing product categories by import value.

In the last five years, the Dresses and Skirts import value has grown on average by 5.2% each year and the other top 5 categories have each grown by an average of 1.7% each year. The Sportswear category has also grown significantly, by 2.8%, which is driven by its functionality and the EU population’s growing inclination to participate in sports due to rising health consciousness. At the same time, Shirts and Blouses (-2.0%), Denim (-1.0%), and Suits and Ensembles (-0.6%) have decreased in share.

Table 11: EU apparel imports by product category, 2020

Product Category

Value

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

Pants

€28.6 billion

+1.6%

Shirts and Blouses

€24.6 billion

-2.0%

Coats, Jackets, Blazers

€18.7 billion

+1.7%

Knitwear

€17.1 billion

+1.7%

Dresses and Skirts

€10.7 billion

+5.2%

Nightwear and Intimates

€9.0 billion

+0.0%

Denim

€7.4 billion

-1.0%

Swimwear and Active Sportswear

€4.0 billion

+2.8%

Suits and Ensembles

€4.0 billion

-0.6%

Baby’s Garments

€3.2 billion

+0.7%

TOTAL:

€127.4 billion

+0.8%

Source: Eurostat

Pants, Shirts and Blouses, Coats and Jackets, knitwear, Nightwear and intimates, and Dresses and Skirts are the largest product categories exported by the developing countries to the EU. Together they account for a value of €49.3 billion equal to 86.0% of all developing country apparel exports to the EU.

The fastest growing product category exports from the developing countries include Swimwear and Active Sportswear, and Dresses and Skirts. In the last five years, Fashion Sportswear exports from the developing countries have grown, on average, by 2.8% each year, driven by a growing demand for this category in the EU. Dresses and Skirts are growing by 2.0% each year. The developing countries have, over the past few years, specialised in Denim, Pants, T-Shirts and Blouses. While these markets are already quite developed, the Swimwear and Active Sportswear segments still offer a lot of undetected opportunities and might be an interesting target for developing countries in the future.

Statistics Jacket and coats
Statistics Jacket and coats

Source: Unsplash

A great option for the CBI countries is the apparel segment of Coats, Jackets, and Blazers, which increased by an average annual growth rate of 11.6% from 2016 to 2020 and showed a value of €2.5 billion in 2020. Furthermore, the Active Sportswear and Swimwear grew by 8.0% and the Dresses and Skirts segment by 7.6%. These three segments offer interesting opportunities for the development of imports to the EU by the CBI countries as the other developing countries have not caught up with this development and have apparently not identified the demand in the EU.

Table 12: EU apparel imports from Developing Countries and from CBI focus countries, by product category, 2020

 

Developing countries

CBI focus countries

Product Category

Value
(€ billion)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

Value
(€ billion)

5-yr average annual  growth rate (%)

Pants

€13.5

-1.1%

€6.5

+0.9%

Shirts and Blouses

€11.3

-4.7%

€5.4

-2.1%

Coats, Jackets and Blazers

€8.0

-1.1%

€2.5

+11.6%

Knitwear

€7.9

-1.8%

€3.1

+1.3%

Nightwear and intimates

€4.3

-1.4%

€1.7

+3.5%

Dresses and Skirts

€4.2

+2.0%

€1.3

+7.6%

Denim

€3.1

-4.4%

€1.5

-3.0%

Suits and ensembles

€1.7

-1.2%

€0.5

+0.8%

Babies and garments

€1.7

-2.3%

€0.7

+3.1%

Swimwear and active sportswear

€1.5

+2.8%

€0.5

+8.0%

TOTAL:

€57.3

-2.0%

€23.6

+1.4%

Source: Eurostat

The average unit prices of apparel imported to the EU from the developing countries vary greatly depending on the product category. Coats and Jackets and Suits and Ensembles constitute higher value apparel and have average unit import prices of €14.50 and €20.26, respectively. Nightwear and Intimates are mass-market low value apparel with average import unit prices of €2.02, respectively.

Most product categories have seen a negative price development within the last five years concerning the trade with developing countries. While the segments have not lost a lot of value, the unit price for Dresses and Skirts has decreased the most; the price decreased from €6.61 in 2015 to €6.29 in 2020. This is a decrease of €0.32 per unit in the last couple of years. The segment that experienced the highest increase in price are Denim products, which increased their price from €8.64 in 2015 to €10.28 in 2020, an increase of €1.64. The general price development of imports from developing countries increased by an average of €0.37 per apparel unit.

In terms of price development, the CBI focus countries have been equal to the overall development of developing countries. The prices of all segments have decreased or increased by very few cents, whereas the price per unit for Suits and Ensembles increased the most, by €0.50, and the price for Coats, Jackets, and Blazers decreased most, by €0.84. This is an interesting development if comparing the overall growth of most segments in value but losing in price per unit. It means the overall development is moving towards an increased demand for apparel products from the CBI countries to the EU, whereas the volume increases and the price per unit is decreasing. This signifies a growth of opportunities for the CBI countries and an exciting outlook for the future.

Table 13: Average unit prices of imports originating from the Developing Countries and from CBI focus countries, by product category, 2020

 

Developing countries

CBI focus countries

Product Category

Average price

Total 5-yr Change

Average price

Total 5-yr Change

Pants

€6.10

-€0.15

€5.08

-€0.51

Shirts and Blouses

€3.37

+€0.74

€2.49

-€0.08

Coats, Jackets and Blazers

€14.39

+€0.11

€11.69

-€0.84

Knitwear

€6.45

+€0.23

€4.97

-€0.23

Nightwear and intimates

€2.03

-€0.01

€2.01

-€0.04

Dresses and Skirts

€6.61

-€0.32

€5.50

+€0.40

Denim

€8.64

+€1.64

€7.51

-€0.17

Suits and ensembles

€20.30

-€0.04

€21.12

+€0.50

Babies and garments

n/a

n/a

n.a.

n.a.

Swimwear and active sportswear

€8.20

+€0.28

€11.05

-€0.11

TOTAL:

€5.22

+€0.37

€4.34

-€0.01

Source: Eurostat

Tips:

  • When you are an entrepreneur in a CBI focus country, consider entering the Coats, Jackets and Blazers market, as the market is shifting in your favour.
  • Consider the segment of Dresses and Skirts, because it shows good growth and low market entry barriers.
  • Increase your focus on Swimwear and Active Sportswear. Europe has a strong demand for these two product categories and is increasingly importing them from the developing countries. Fashion sportswear has a high average unit price and positive price development over the past five years. For more detail, see the CBI study Exporting sportswear to Europe.
  • Consider entering the sustainable apparel market, because it will comprise the future of the European imports. Understand what the buyers’ sustainability requirements are and research where and how you can implement them, for example through using sustainable materials, implementing more eco-friendly production processes, recycling.
  • Keep in mind that there is not just one target group on the apparel market. Niche segments can also offer business opportunities. Identify the market segment that would be the best fit for your company.
  • Decide if you prefer to sell high-quality and high-value products with a higher price per unit (for example Suits and Ensemble), or mass-market products such as Nightwear and Intimates, as well as Pants and T-Shirts with a lower per unit price. Depending on your decision, you can use a matching local market for all of your products at once.

This study has been carried out on behalf of CBI by M-Brain GmbH.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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