Exporting kitchen linen of natural fibres to Europe
Europe sources most of its natural fibre kitchen linen imports from developing countries. Germany and the United Kingdom are especially interesting focus markets for you. The middle and high-end market segments offer you the most opportunities. To supply these segments you need to pay particular attention to design and quality. Working with sustainable materials and co-creation can give you a competitive edge.
Contents of this page
- Product description
- Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of natural fibre kitchen linen?
- What trends offer opportunities on the European market for natural fibre kitchen linen?
- With which requirements must natural fibre kitchen linen comply to be allowed on the European market?
- What competition do you face on the European natural fibre kitchen linen market?
- Which channels can you use to put natural fibre kitchen linen on the European market?
- What are the end-market prices for natural fibre kitchen linen?
The term linen is used to describe any woven or knitted bath, bed, kitchen or table textiles. In this context, it does not specifically refer to the fabric linen.
Kitchen linen includes items like tea and terry towels, potholders and oven mitts. Kitchen linen can be sold individually or in matching sets. Combinations of kitchen and table linen in sets are also available. Some suppliers even coordinate the kitchen linen with items like ready-made curtains for the kitchen.
This study uses the following codes to indicate trade in natural fibre kitchen linen:
Table 1: Product codes
Harmonised System (HS)
13 92 14 50
Kitchen linen and toilet linen of cotton
6302 99 10
Kitchen linen and toilet linen of flax
6302 99 90
Kitchen linen and toilet linen of other textile materials (excluding man-made fibres)
- For more information about table linen, see our study on table linen of natural fibres.
Kitchen linen has different functions, both protective and decorative. It is used to protect against stains, to clean surfaces and/or to protect the hands from hot pots and pans. When various pieces match in style, they provide consumers a quick and inexpensive way to decorate their kitchen and create a consistent look.
Most kitchen linen is woven. The fabric should be washable at fairly high temperatures (60–90°C) to remove stains, without shrinking or fading. Natural fibre kitchen linen consists of cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp or banana fibre. It can also be made of blended yarns or mixed fabrics. However, by far the largest part of European imports consists of products made of cotton.
Sizes for kitchen linen vary widely depending on the type of product. Common standard sizes for tea towels are 50x70 cm and 60x45 cm. Ask your European buyer what specific sizes they may be looking for in the early stages of collaboration.
Kitchen linen is available in a variety of designs and colours. Different patterns can be woven into or printed on it. Kitchen linen usually comes in sets with matching styles, to provide a consistent decorative style for the kitchen and dining room.
External packaging labels for kitchen linen should include the producer, consignee, composition, size, number of pieces, box identification, total number of boxes, and net and gross weight.
The most important information on the product or packing labels of kitchen linen is composition, size, origin and care labelling. For more information, refer to the chapter on buyer requirements.
You should pack kitchen linen according to the importer’s instructions. Packaging usually consists of plastic wrapping to protect the fabric from water, solar radiation and staining. It should be easily manageable in terms of size and weight, and ideally fit together on (Euro) pallets. When in doubt, check the dimensions with your buyer.
Natural fibre kitchen linen is usually displayed unpacked, making attractive consumer packaging less important. In general, consumer packaging needs to protect against stains but can be simple in design. However, in the mid-high or high-end segments you should provide consumer packaging matching the design, quality and price of the product.
Some buyers in the gift sector also offer kitchen linen items (for instance a set of tea towels), which makes consumer packaging extra important. In such cases, your buyer will inform you about the required packaging.
Although European imports of natural fibre kitchen linen are fluctuating slightly, they are growing. Most of these imports come from developing countries. Europe’s main importers of natural fibre kitchen linen are Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Their strong market for developing country imports make Germany and the United Kingdom especially interesting focus countries.
Where is consumer demand?
- Although European demand for natural fibre kitchen linen fluctuated slightly, it did increase between 2012 and 2016. With an average annual growth rate of 0.9%, it reached €260 million in 2016.
- European demand for natural fibre kitchen linen was highest in France at €62 million. The United Kingdom and Germany followed at €36 million each.
What is the role of European production in supplying European demand?
- Europe’s demand for natural fibre kitchen linen is much higher than its production. This drives the need for imports, making Europe an interesting market.
- European production of natural fibre kitchen linen decreased between 2012 and 2016. With an average annual growth rate of −14%, it dropped to €41 million in 2016.
- Portugal is responsible for 35% of European kitchen linen production. France follows with 17%.
Which countries are most interesting in terms of imports from developing countries?
- European imports of natural fibre kitchen linen fluctuated slightly between 2012 and 2016. Resulting in an average annual growth rate of 2.8%, total imports increased from €273 million to €305 million.
- In the coming years, European imports are expected to grow moderately.
- Developing countries are Europe’s main source of natural fibre kitchen linen imports. They supply 64%, amounting to €195 million. This share is predicted to be fairly stable in the coming years.
- In reality, much of the kitchen linen imported from western European countries concerns re-exported products manufactured in developing countries.
- Germany is Europe’s leading importer of natural fibre kitchen linen, with €58 million in 2016. France (€49 million) and the United Kingdom (€38 million) follow.
- These main importing countries also lead in imports from developing countries. Germany and the United Kingdom have particularly strong markets for developing country imports. Germany sources 69% of its natural fibre kitchen linen imports from developing countries, the United Kingdom 86%!
- India (16%), China (14%), Pakistan (13%) and Turkey (8.7%) were Europe’s leading natural fibre kitchen linen suppliers in 2016. Egypt (6.0%) and Bangladesh (3.7%) were also strong players.
- Study your options in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Their strong imports from developing countries make Germany and the United Kingdom especially interesting markets.
- The upcoming Brexit (Great Britain leaving the European Union) has decreased the value of the British pound. As a result more British buyers have started importing directly from developing countries, rather than buying from European importers. However, as the situation is still fluid and insecure, you should keep a close watch on developments.
- Compare your products and company to the strong competition from India, as well as from China, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Bangladesh. You can use ITC Trademap to find exporters per country. You can compare on market segment, price, quality and target countries.
What role does export play in supplying European demand?
- European exports of natural fibre kitchen linen consist mainly of trade within Europe.
- Germany (€31 million) is Europe’s leading natural fibre kitchen linen exporter, followed by Spain (€24 million).
What is the effect of real private consumption expenditure on European demand?
- Private consumption expenditure is an important indicator for the European home decoration market. The sector is closely linked to economic conditions. When money is tight, consumers postpone buying non-essential items until they have enough disposable income.
- Between 2017 and 2019, European private consumption expenditure is expected to increase, so consumption of decorative products is likely to rise. Especially in emerging markets, consumers will have more money available to spend on decorating the home. Consumers in mature markets already spend a fair amount of money on decoration, so growth in their consumption will be moderate.
Due to its primary function of protecting and drying kitchenware, kitchen linen is washed frequently. At the same time, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their consumption. They are choosing to buy less, but of a better quality. This makes durable fabrics for kitchen linen popular, offering consumers a both environmentally friendly and economical choice.
- Use durable materials like cotton for kitchen towels, and linen or cotton for tea towels.
European consumers increasingly view outdoor spaces around the house as an extension of their home. This outdoor trend is increasingly relevant to cooking, including kitchen equipment and decoration such as kitchen linen. Not only barbecues, but also more complex dinners can be prepared in the garden or on the terrace. Elegant materials that soften when laundered frequently, like linen, are popular for the outdoor kitchen.
- Ensure that the combinations of patterns and colours you offer are diverse and can decorate different spaces.
- For more information, see our special study on the garden.
European consumers and designers are increasingly striving to avoid a negative environmental impact as a result of their consumption and production. They are shifting their preferences towards more sustainable choices. This is leading producers of kitchen linen to opt for sustainable raw materials and techniques, like organic cotton, linen (made from flax) and eco-friendly or eco-friendlier dyes.
Using sustainable natural fibres is only one part. Decreasing or eliminating the chemicals used in turning the fibre into yarn is just as important.
- Consider using sustainable materials for your kitchen linen, especially when you target the higher segments.
- For more information, see our special study on sustainability.
European buyers are increasingly trying to distinguish themselves from their competitors. To do so, they focus on their own image and design. They look for producers they can cooperate with to develop their own products, also referred to as “co-creation”. This makes it extra important to showcase your special skills, production techniques and the variety of raw materials you work with.
- Make sure your collection showcases the different materials and production techniques you have to offer.
- Emphasise the story behind your product in your promotion strategy.
Smaller quantities and shorter lead times
European buyers change their collections increasingly often. As a result, they are looking for shorter lead times and lower minimum orders. This is a distinct advantage for small to medium sized producers, since they are generally more flexible and able to supply smaller quantities than bigger producers.
- If you are flexible in production and can supply smaller quantities, emphasise this in your promotion.
For more information, see our study about trends for Home Decoration & Home Textiles.
4 . With which requirements must natural fibre kitchen linen comply to be allowed on the European market?
With which legal and non-legal requirements must your product comply?
General product safety
The European Union’s General Product Safety Directive applies to all consumer products, including kitchen linen. It states that all products marketed in Europe must be safe to use.
- Read more about the General Product Safety Directive.
- Use your common sense to ensure normal use of your product does not cause any danger.
- The RAPEX database lists products that the European Union has rejected at the border or withdrawn from the market. Check the database for similar products for an idea of what issues may arise.
Restricted chemicals: REACH
The REACH regulation lists restricted chemicals in products that are marketed in Europe. For example, REACH restricts the use of azo dyes and certain flame retardants in textile products.
- The European Chemical Agency provides useful information and tips on REACH. See for instance REACH Annex XVII for a list of all restricted chemicals. Also check out the Information on REACH for companies established outside Europe and the Questions & Answers on REACH.
- Follow new developments in the field of flame retardants, as new alternatives are being developed. You can do so for instance through the European Flame Retardants Association (EFRA).
According to the European Union’s Textile Regulation, textile products should be labelled or marked to indicate their fibre composition. These labels should be durable and tear-resistant, securely attached, easily legible, visible and accessible.
- For more information, see the Frequently Asked Questions about the Textile Regulation.
Europe has specific packaging and packaging waste legislation. It for instance restricts the use of certain heavy metals. Europe also has requirements for wood packaging materials (WPM) used for transport, such as packing cases, boxes, crates, drums, (box) pallets and dunnage.
- Read more in the overview of EU rules on wood packaging material.
What additional requirements do buyers often have?
Social and environmental sustainability make your products stand out on the European market. This could concern sustainable raw materials and production processes. European buyers increasingly demand the following certification schemes:
- Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI): European retailers developed this initiative to improve social conditions in sourcing countries. They expect their suppliers to comply with the BSCI Code of Conduct. To prove compliance, the importer can request an audit of your production process. Once a company has been audited, it is included in a database for all BSCI participants.
- Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI): This initiative is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. It aims to improve the working lives of people across the globe who make or grow consumer goods.
- Optimise your sustainability performance. Reading up on the issues included in the initiatives will give you an idea of what to focus on.
- Buyers appreciate a good story. If you can show that you value your company’s environmental and/or social performance, this may be a competitive advantage. Consider a self-assessment like the BSCI Self-Assessment for Producers, or a code of conduct such as the BSCI Code of Conduct or the ETI base code.
- For more information, see our special study on Sustainability in the Home Sector.
What are the requirements for niche markets?
The concept of fair trade supports fair pricing and improved social conditions for producers and their communities. Especially when the production of your kitchen linen is labour-intensive, fair-trade certification can give you a competitive advantage.
Common fair-trade certifications are from:
- Ask buyers what they are looking for. Especially in the fair-trade sector, you can use the story behind your product for marketing purposes.
- Check the ITC Standards map database for more information on voluntary standards and their requirements, including fair production.
Sustainable textile certification
Across the home sector, sustainability is gaining ground. Although the actual use of certification is still not widespread in home textiles, there is an increasing interest from buyers.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) ensures environmental and social responsibility throughout the production chain. To qualify, textile products must contain over 70% organic fibres.
OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification guarantees no hazardous chemicals were used in production.
The EU Ecolabel for textiles focus on minimising environmental impact at the manufacturing stage.
For more information, see our study about buyer requirements for Home Decoration & Home Textiles.
The competition for kitchen linen does not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about competition for Home Decoration for a general overview. Also refer to our 10 tips for doing business with European buyers.
The market channels and segments for kitchen linen do not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about market channels and segments for Home Decoration & Home Textiles for a general overview.
Kitchen linen from natural fibres can be found in a wide variety of stores, ranging from low-end discounters to more high-end retailers. A lot of shops that are not specialised in home textiles also sell kitchen linen, since it is popular as a gift, or to complement the rest of their range. Think for instance of gift shops, garden centres (outdoor kitchen or barbeque) and especially supermarkets.
The channels through which kitchen linen is put on the market follow the traditional patterns: import via importers/wholesalers that supply retailers, and larger retail chains that import themselves. E-commerce is still gaining in importance, and more and more smaller retailers have started buying directly from the supplier, but mainly when it concerns high-end kitchen linen.
- For more information about trading directly with smaller retailers, see our special study about alternative distribution channels.
E-commerce in home decoration is increasing and can help you reach a broader range of customers. Retailers often combine online and offline channels. Consumers research and purchase products online, shopping around and comparing prices on home decoration items. To supply e‑commerce retailers you must be able to work with individual packing and labelling, as well as limited minimum orders.
- See our special study about E-commerce in Home Decoration & Home Textiles for more information.
- Target online business-to-consumer retailers if you can meet the additional requirements.
Trade associations and fairs
The following trade associations and fairs are useful sources for finding trading partners in Europe.
- Ambiente, Frankfurt, February
- EURATEX, European Apparel and Textile Confederation
- Heimtextil, Frankfurt, January
- Maison et Objet, Paris, January and September
In the low-end segment, simple and inexpensive kitchen linen is common. The middle segment includes kitchen linen with sustainable raw materials like organic cotton. To supply the middle-high segment, you need to offer added value in the materials and/or craftsmanship you use. In the high-end segment, designer quality is common and private labels are the standard.
Products from China, Pakistan and India generally dominate the low-end market. Competing with this type of cheap mass production is almost impossible. If your production is mechanised (power looms etc.) you can target the middle-low end.
The middle and high-end markets offer you the most opportunities. To supply these segments you need to pay particular attention to design and quality.
Prices for kitchen linen vary depending on the specific product, composition, manufacturing technique, size, design and brand.
Table 2 gives an overview of the prices of natural fibre kitchen linen in the low, middle and high market segments.
Table 2: Indicative consumer prices of natural fibre kitchen linen
€20 and more
The European consumer price of your kitchen linen is around 4 to 6½ times your selling price. Shipping, import and handling add 15–20%. Wholesalers account for a further 50–90% markup. Retailers may add another 90–150% to the price. Finally, European VAT percentages range from 18% in Malta to 27% in Sweden.
Your original selling price depends heavily on the availability and cost of raw materials. For example, the average prices of cotton have fluctuated considerably in recent years. Occasional increases in the price of raw materials are not directly passed on to the consumer, but do put pressure on exporters, importers and retailers’ margins.
- The value perception of your product in the chosen segment determines its price. The quality and price of your kitchen linen must match what is expected in your chosen target segment. To determine your price, study consumer prices in your target segment. Adjust your cost accordingly.
- Understand your segment. Offer a correct marketing mix to meet consumer expectations. Adapt your business model to your position in the market.
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