The Future of the Textile Services Industry

In mid- April 2020 ETSA had called for measures to restart the European economy and welcomed the NextGenerationEU recovery plan that was adopted at the end of that year. Three years later the COVID pandemic is still something our sector must continue to contend with.  Having one of the oldest circular business models currently existing, ETSA, its large companies and National Associations are on the move for a healthier, greener, and more digital as well as skills-oriented textile service industry. Nevertheless, in this transformation it is imperative we do not lose touch with the hard reality of COVID-19 which still remains a challenge for our sector.

 

This is a time where energy consumption and its high costs- as well as the debates around the use of natural gas- are especially salient issues.  The textile service industry has not lost its dynamic verve, its willingness to continue to be operative even under constraints and conditions which are not ideal. In a recent survey which polled the most important national associations involved in the textile service in Europe over the last few months of 2021, it appeared clear that after being hit for two years in a row, the industry is cautiously looking to return to pre-covid business and revenues within a time frame of 12 to 18 months.  Some companies (especially SMEs) have suffered more than others, but the EU and governmental stimulus packages from national governments across the board have allowed companies to avoid the worst-case scenario and ETSA remained in service to our members and national associations.

Such a trying time as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the strength of ETSA national associations and their work together on the ETSA platform. The national associations of Belgium, the UK, the USA, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Czech Republic had their own respective very intense moments, need for deliberation, times for revising their strategy, a need to strengthen their work at the national level but also to increase cooperation at the European level and well beyond.

The sector is still fighting in our collective struggle against the pandemic, while public health experts have noted that “Omicron” is a much weaker health concern, it is not providing a reassuring economic forecast for our industry if we check the latest information shared by the textile services in Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland and the UK.  Due to the threat of an endemic pandemic and in accordance with the ETSA Survey’s main interim findings, the primary markets of the sector are still Healthcare, Hospitality and Industry. In some places such as Italy, there are significant differences between the tourism laundry sector and the healthcare sector which cannot be underestimated in the overall picture and analysis. Furthermore, other key variables such as variant energy costs, labour mobility and regulations also likely play a huge role in the divergence we see in the post-covid recovery of textile services in Europe.

It is no surprise that the majority of the people interviewed highlighted a significant decrease of volumes treated (between 31% and 90%) in 2021 compared to January 2020 with a sharp total revenue loss of between 30 and 60% during the 1st half of 2021, an element that well highlights the constant challenge some of the national associations faced over these late two years of severe government lockdowns. The expectation for 2021 revenues was nevertheless looking positive:  in the same amount of time (between 90 to 120 days) considered for 2020, the forecast for revenues in 2021 proved to be the same. Truly, this is the result of the industry’s resilience and the assistance of governments in handling the pandemic. The Green and Digital transition which has been central to the European Union’s recovery has allowed for strategic innovations and crisis management which has allowed businesses including those in the textile services industry to adapt.

Nevertheless, regarding the labour force, things have not yet fully returned to normal. The key element of the workforce is also an important result of this ETSA survey- It is ageing and whilst the average number of employees in 2019 was 131 employees per company, in 2020 this figure fell to 115 employees per company and the sector has felt this decrease both in the healthcare and tourist laundry related sector.

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