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State of the Industry 2009: Outlook

Markets | March 1, 2009 | By:

Challenge, opportunity and growth: Our market forecast for the specialty fabrics industry

A survey conducted in fall 2008 by IFAI with its U.S. end-product manufacturer members revealed some interesting results. Almost half (45 percent) of all manufacturer respondents reported favorable sales in the first half of 2008 compared to the first half of 2007. In the second half of 2008, as the economy slowed, only 39 percent of respondents reported favorable sales compared to the second half of 2007. In response to the economic developments over the past six months, the majority of respondents reported that they will maintain their current staff levels until they see the economy improve.

Embracing increasing globalization, new technologies and a growing demand for innovative products with added value are the essential qualities for successful specialty fabric manufacturers in 2009. Throughout the industry, it is generally clear that the future of the specialty fabrics industry lies in adding value.

Last year we reported that, through 2010, the market for specialty fabrics was expected to grow 3 to 5 percent per year in Western countries (United States, Europe and Australia/New Zealand) and by 5 to 8 percent per year in Asia and Russia. Unfortunately, the global recession we are experiencing may bring these growth estimates down by 1 to 2 percent per country in 2009.

U.S. demand for coated fabrics is expected to increase 3.4 percent through 2009 to 685 million square yards. Gains are being driven by ongoing strength in the protective clothing (military, law enforcement, firefighter, emergency response) and industrial markets. Positive year-over-year growth is expected to occur in selected nonresidential construction markets such as hotel/motel, office, education buildings and highway/street construction, which should help growth in the awning, geosynthetics and lightweight structures markets.

Specialty fabric manufacturers in the U.S. and other developed countries have the opportunity to increase market share in 2009 within value-added, innovative, high-technology oriented markets. Opportunities include continued increased demand by the U.S. Department of Defense for new and improved specialty fabrics, coupled with new/expanded uses for specialty fabrics in industries such as construction (nonwovens in geosynthetics), industrial, safety and protection (nanotechnology) and a strong “green” trend in markets such as digital textile printing, tents, lightweight structures and awnings. The burgeoning medical textile market, driven largely by an aging U.S. population, is another strong, growing market for both fabric suppliers and end-product manufacturers.

In 2009, industry players that achieve market success will do so because they have focused and communicated the value of their products and services to their customers in very clear terms. It’s critical to deliver a portfolio of products and services based on core competencies that expand into new technologies while keeping the emphasis on quality, innovation and customer relationships.

Jeff Rasmussen is a market research manager at the Industrial Fabrics Association International, at +1 651 225 6967, e-mail

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