For centuries, the textile and clothing sector has been one of the most important in the Latvian economy. It has very culturally significant roots, mostly associated with natural materials, high quality, and a true-to-nature lifestyle and values. For centuries, textile products were also important export commodities in the context of the Hanseatic League and beyond.
In the last century, Latvia was one of the most renowned flax exporters, with almost 40,000 ha of land devoted to the cultivation of this plant. Flax was the second most important income source in Latvia after timber. Latvian flax and hemp were associated with the highest standards of the time, as innovative and thorough control methods were used for ensuring the highest quality of these fibers.
Linen is still an integral part of the Latvian textile industry, also contributing to niche products such as linen ropes or linen for technical use. Hemp is also regaining its status through the introduction of new insulating and other technical textile materials.
TEXTILE INDUSTRY AT A GLANCE
While home textiles from linen, such as tablecloths and curtains, are very popular among the local population, the most exclusive linen accessories have been noticed by well-known international brands and are now part of their collections.
Today, the textile sector is an important part of Latvian industry, combining the best of traditional knowhow with industrial and technological knowledge. This expertise has led to the creation of high value-added products such as silver and amber threads.
Around 12,000 people are employed in more than 700 Latvian textile companies, mostly small and medium size. The sector’s contribution to the total value added of manufacturing is 3.2%. The capital city of Riga takes the lead as far as workforce is concerned, followed by the city of Liepaja. However, textile companies are distributed all around Latvia, unleashing the creativeness and inspiration of our people.
The main textile industry sub-sectors are lingerie manufacturing, sewing, weaving, technical textile manufacturing, and artisan textile production. The industry is highly export-oriented, particularly the lingerie segment.
Production volume by Subsectors, 2012
Source: The Association of Latvian Textile and Clothing Industry
The competitive advantages for cooperation with Latvian textile companies are numerous, including short lead times, small and diversified production volumes, as well as price and quality ratio. Reliability and long-term mutually beneficial partnerships have allowed the sector to maintain its positions in the currently highly volatile market.
The industry is dominated by sewing companies that act as outsourced production for EU brands. This is very convenient, as production and delivery times are short and technical capabilities are advanced – from embroidery and laser cutting to waterproof-garment production. Latvian sewing companies provide customized services, including pattern and other design services.
However, there are also a number of local small and medium size companies that are working on their own jersey, knitwear, and other material collections, bringing forward the idea of natural and ecological clothing. Similar philosophies and attitudes toward living can be found in the numerous workshops of home textile companies – from small to large. In fact, the recent Environmental Performance Index report by Yale and Columbia Universities, which studied more than 130 countries, ranked Latvia the second most environmentally friendly nation in the world.
Many world-renowned automotive and airspace companies have benefited from Latvia’s competence in glass fiber production. In this field, Latvia has several highly innovative companies with great expansion potential.
Every year, local small and medium companies present new adult and children’s fashion, as well as home textile design collections admired by customers around the globe. Latvian fashion designers are gaining more international recognition by actively participating in prestigious competitions from Paris to Tokyo, as well as by attending numerous design-clothing trade fairs.
Another integral part of textile production in Latvia is lingerie manufacturing. This is a very characteristic feature, especially in the seaside city of Liepaja, which alone hosts more than 50 manufacturers. Their creativity and sense of feminine beauty can be appreciated in many international fairs across Europe and Russia. Latvian lingerie manufacturers have won several contests for representing the best fashion trends in this industry. It should be mentioned that the number of lingerie companies in Latvia is considerable; elsewhere in Europe, only France has a higher concentration of lingerie manufacturers.
There are two associations uniting Latvian textile producers: the Association of Latvian Textile and Clothing Industry and the Association of Latvian Lingerie Manufacturers (LATVERA). The industry is also supported by several education institutions: the Riga School of Arts and Crafts, Latvian Academy of Arts, and the Textiles Faculty of Riga Technical University, as well as several vocational education institutions. Professional institutions educate 8% of new employees, from tailors, handcraftsmen, and leather designers to clothing and textile technologists.
The sector is currently following the trends in European industry, and developments are mostly seen in technical natural fiber applications, as well as in innovative solutions for non-wovens in automotive, medical, and other sectors. Intelligent textile and garment development is closely studied by our research institutes and designers, leading to creative products addressing new customer needs. Being well-established, the sector is continuously attracting new investment for upgrading existing and creating new production plants.
TEXTILE INDUSTRY STATISTICS
Without a doubt, the major market for Latvian textile goods is the EU, where our most important partners are the Baltic and Scandinavian countries. However, with every passing year, our eastern partners – Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus – are expanding their contribution to the turnover of the sector.
The textile products export to the west is mostly under private labels. Textile production outsourcing in Latvia is an integral part of the business.
At the same time, export to Russia and CIS mostly features locally designed fashion and lingerie collections, which have an esteemed reputation and appeal for highly demanding clientele.
Export of Textiles by Countries, 2012
Source: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia
Obsessed with quality, our producers acquire only the best raw materials imported mainly from Italy, Poland, Germany, and Lithuania. These are later transformed into ready-made garments and other textile articles. The latest trends also show the willingness and ability of Latvian companies to acquire manufacturing plants in the EU.
Results from the last year show great success, as the industry has reached the level of 2007, gaining the highest turnover in the last 20 years. Export markets have grown steadily, expanding to 105 countries. The market is well diversified, as 95% of the goods produced are landing in 22 countries.
Export and Import of Textile Products, million EUR
Source: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia
The sector has seen significant investment in technologies and equipment, especially in the period 2000-2004. Textile and garment companies continuously update and replace their equipment in order to be productive, cost-efficient, and thereby competitive. The last three years have shown a stable increase in investment.
FDI Stock in the Manufacture of Textiles and Wearing Apparel, million EUR
Source: Bank of Latvia
As described above, our strengths in production result in high added-value export products such as underwear, technical textile, knitted and crocheted garments, work wear, and hosiery.
The Latvian domestic market is small but solid, and provides an innovative platform from which our producers are launching to foreign markets. Latvia is a bridge that connects east with west – this is one of country’s greatest strengths, which certainly contributes to the continued growth of the textile sector.
Textile and Clothing Industry in Latvia
POLARIS Process: www.polarisprocess.com
Ministry of Economics of the Republic of Latvia: www.em.gov.lv
Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia: www.csb.gov.lv
The Bank of Latvia: www.bank.lv
Association of Textile and Clothing Industry: www.atci.lv
Association of Latvian Lingerie Manufacturers: www.latvera.lv