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Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of apparel?

Takes about 6 minutes to read

Europe is a promising market for apparel exporters from developing countries. European apparel imports are expected to continue increasing, having a substantial share sourced from developing countries. Interesting focus markets include Germany, France and the United Kingdom, which are the main importers and consumers of apparel in the European Union. Spain, Italy and the Netherlands also offer opportunities. China, Bangladesh and Turkey are the leading supplying countries to European apparel imports.


1 . Classification of apparel products

Apparel refers to the garments or clothes that people wear. Harmonised System (HS) codes are used to classify apparel products and calculate international trade statistics. This study bases its apparel import and export statistics on the HS codes in the table below.

Table 1: Product codes

HS code

Description of product

61

Articles of apparel and clothing accessories, knitted or crocheted

62

Articles of apparel and clothing accessories, not knitted or crocheted

The production statistics are based on Prodcom codes for the same products as described above (1412, 1413, 1414, 1419, 1431, 1439). Consumption is defined as apparent demand and calculated using trade and production statistics: imports + production – exports = apparent demand.

2 . Where is consumer demand?

  • European demand for apparel increased from 2013 to 2017 at an average annual growth rate of 2.8%, reaching €79 billion in 2017. This value has been relatively stable since 2015.
  • For the coming years, European demand is expected to remain fairly stable.
  • Demand is highest in Germany (€15 billion), followed by the United Kingdom (€14 billion) and France (€12 billion). Demand in these countries showed a similar pattern to that of Europe in general, growing at an annual average of 2% to 3% from 2013 to 2017.
  • Other European countries with a considerable demand for apparel include Spain (€6.9 billion), Italy (€6.1 billion) and the Netherlands (€4.8 billion). From 2013 to 2017, demand in Spain and the Netherlands increased at an impressive average annual growth rate of 4.6% and 9.6% respectively. In Italy however, it decreased at an average of -8.9% per year in the same period.

Tip:

  • Study your options in Germany, the United Kingdom and France, as well as Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Their strongly increasing demand makes Spain and the Netherlands especially interesting.

  • Europe’s demand for apparel is considerably higher than its production: about triple in value. This drives the need for imports, making Europe an interesting market.
  • Unlike the demand, European production of apparel actually decreased from 2013 to 2017 at an average annual growth rate of -1.6%, reaching €26 billion in 2017 after dipping below €25 billion in 2015.
  • This pattern was mainly caused by a drop in Italian apparel production in 2015. Italy is responsible for 34% of the European apparel production, making it by far the largest producer in Europe. After decreasing from €12 billion in 2013 to €7.6 billion in 2015, Italian production picked up again to reach €8.8 billion in 2017. This resulted in an average annual decline of -6.5% for the country.
  • Other large European producers include Spain (€3.3 billion), Portugal (€2.9 billion) and Romania (€2.8 billion). Unlike Italy, these countries slightly increased their production from 2013 to 2017.
  • Italian manufacturers mainly produce premium and designer apparel, so they are generally not your direct competition in fast fashion. Spain, Portugal and Romania however, generally produce apparel for the lower and middle market segments. The focus on these segments combined with their convenient locations, which allow for relatively cheap transport and quick responses to European market developments, makes these countries potentially strong competitors for you.

Tip:

  • Compare your products and company to potential competition from Spain, Portugal and Romania. You can use ITC Trade Map to find exporters per country. You can compare by market segment, price, quality and target countries.

3 . Which target countries in Europe are most interesting in terms of imports from developing countries?

  • European imports of apparel increased from €125 billion in 2013 to €158 billion in 2017 at an average annual growth rate of 6.0%.
  • In the coming years, European apparel imports are expected to keep growing moderately.
  • Developing countries export €100 billion in apparel to the EU, making up 64% of all European apparel imports. This share is predicted to remain fairly stable in the coming years.
  • Much of the apparel imports that come from Western European countries are actual re-exports of products manufactured in developing countries.

  • Germany is Europe’s leading importer of apparel by far: €33 billion in 2017. The United Kingdom (€21 billion) and France (€20 billion) follow second and third in the EU.
  • Other large European apparel importers include Spain (€16 billion), Italy (€13 billion) and the Netherlands (€11 billion).
  • These six countries are also the European leaders in apparel imports from developing countries.
  • Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain source between 68% and 79% of their total imports from developing countries, which is well above the European average of 64%.
  • The strong performance of developing country apparel suppliers in the leading importing countries is evidenced further by average annual increase rates of up to 12%, such as in Spain, from 2013 to 2017.
  • Although the Netherlands may be a relatively small market, the country is an important European trade hub. Importers in the Netherlands re-export apparel from developing countries across Europe.
  • Poland and the Czech Republic increased their apparel imports from developing countries at an average annual growth rate of 19% to €4.4 billion and 16% to €1.6 billion respectively from 2013 to 2017. This makes these Eastern European countries promising emerging markets for you.

  • China, Bangladesh and Turkey dominate European apparel imports. Together, they are responsible for 44% of the European apparel production.
  • Other leading suppliers from developing countries are India (4.2%), Cambodia (3.2%), Vietnam (2.8%), Pakistan (2.2%) and Morocco (2.1%).
  • The supplies from Germany are mainly re-exports of products imported from developing countries, as Germany is an important European trade hub that doesn’t have much local production. Although Italy’s supplies may include some local production, this country also re-exports products from abroad.
  • Although industry experts indicate apparel production may be moving out of China, supplies from China were fairly stable over 2016 and 2017 at €37 billion.

Tips:

  • Study your options in Germany, France and the United Kingdom, as well as Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. These countries are leading the European apparel demand as well as imports. Their strong apparel imports from developing countries make them especially interesting markets.
  • Keep track of developments in emerging markets such as Poland and the Czech Republic for potential opportunities.
  • Compare your products and company to the strong competition from China, Bangladesh and Turkey. Study also your competitors in countries such as India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Morocco. You can use ITC Trade Map to find exporters per country. You can compare by market segment, price, quality and target countries.
  • For more information on potential developments in China, see our study on trends in the European apparel market.

4 . What role does export play in supplying European demand?

  • European exports of apparel consist mainly of trade within Europe.
  • From 2013 to 2017, European apparel exports increased from €85 billion to €107 billion at an average annual growth rate of 5.9%.
  • Germany (€14 billion) is Europe’s leading apparel exporter, followed by Italy (€10 billion).
  • Other large European apparel exporters include Spain (€7.8 billion), Belgium (€7.3 billion), the Netherlands (€7.2 billion) and France (€6.6 billion).
  • These exports illustrate the key role of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands as well-known European trade hubs.

Tips:

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