The reality today is that times are tough and many companies in our industry are struggling to cope with extreme cost increases, with many being forced to temporarily suspend production. But there are opportunities that can be seized in terms of sustainability.
For this 16th episode, we welcome Fa Quix, General Manager at Fedustria, who has worked in the textile industry for over 40 years. Over that time, he has seen a big evolution in the industry, and today, Fa speaks about the opportunities that sustainability offers to the future of our local industry in times of crisis.
An episode with a positive, yet realistic message!
Listen to the podcast here:
- Sustainability is the way forward, no matter the size of the company, everyone can make a difference today. We all have a role to play in convincing and inspiring those that are still hesitant because they do not know how or where to start.
- The start is to integrate sustainability into the core of your company, right into the strategy.
- Although the current circumstances are challenging, the Belgian textile industry is known for its deep thorough specialization, with strong product portfolios and strategies, and we should believe in its strengths for a bright(er) future.
- ‘We need to be economically sustainable to be ecologically sustainable.’ A company has to make money first before making its first steps toward sustainability.
Fa’s passion for textiles
Fa started working in the textile industry in 1981. Already as a student, he was fascinated by the manufacturing industry in general: how it works, how companies can create added value out of raw materials, make products, and earn money with them. While he was initially interested in machinery, he’s now fully focused on textiles.
Being General Manager at Fedustria, Fa represents over 1700 companies in the textile and wood industry in Belgium. Fedustria’s goal is the flourishing of manufacturing businesses in textiles, wood, and furniture.
To achieve this, Fedustria is committed to the following activities:
- Lobbying: at the political level for the interests of companies and this regionally, federally, Europe-wide, and internationally.
- Sharing relevant information with the companies.
- Servicing the companies to help them in different aspects (for example, with export, with legal questions, and questions on sustainability).
Evolution: from commodities to specialties
Given his years of experience, Fa is the ideal person to talk about industry evolution. Looking back over the past few years, Fa sees a clear shift with 2 major changes.
- Commodities to specialties
As Fa states, the industry has increasingly moved away from commodities products towards specialization and more customized products.
For example, technical textiles represented only 10% of the textile industry in Belgium about 30 years ago. Still, today, it represents almost 50% (think about the production of protective workwear or medical textile such as facemasks). These types of textiles require a lot of know-how, research, and innovation. It is precisely with these knowledge-intensive products that our local companies can make a difference and really thrive.
- Growth in interior textiles
In recent years, Belgium has become an important player in interior textiles such as decoration, carpets, and mattresses, with several of our companies being global players in the market.
Next to these major shifts, Fa is happy to see that products have not only become more specialized, but that there is also an increasing focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly products.
Belgium vs European industry
For Fa, the Belgian industry is quite similar to other European countries. He says that our companies generally face the same challenges and difficulties as our European colleagues.
Belgium also used to be known in Europe as a major player in fashion clothing, but due to the shifts mentioned above, this is only a small part of it today.
The future of European Industry
Things are always happening outside companies that we have no control over but that have a big impact on their operations. The industry has suffered a lot from the covid crisis and now there is the big problem of energy prices.
The impact on industries today is huge and companies are losing a lot of competitiveness, especially those in manufacturing.
Fa emphasises that the strength of our local industry lies in its thorough specialisation. The bulk of Belgian companies have a strong product portfolio and a well-thought-out strategy, and many of them rely on digitalisation and automation to create competitive advantages.
These are strengths of the companies that drive success and competitive positions. Elements that will ensure that once the situation returns to normal, the companies can flourish again. We should not fear the future, it is a tough period we have to go through, a period where we go into ‘survival mode’ probably for another 6 to 12 months before we can return to our normal activities. It is not a normal period. We should believe in the strength of our companies, of the choices already made that things will get better again and we can look forward to a bright(er) future.
Towards more sustainability
Sustainability is not something of just the last few years, it has been developing for a long time. Environmental awareness started already 30 years ago. It was one of the first steps in this ‘shift’. At that time, there was hardly any legislation in place, let alone an awareness of the impact of the industry on the environment. Around the 80’s, things started to change, and companies had to adapt themselves quickly. It is a step-by-step process, with an ever-expanding focus on the environment, and now evolving into the much broader scope of sustainability.
Today, there is already a set of legislation around the environment, and as a lot of new legislation around sustainability and circular economy is on the way, companies will have to adapt to this as well. Because again and again, we need to ask ourselves the question, what’s next? Can we go any further?
The way forward
Looking at the development of sustainability in the industry over the past year, one of Fa’s lessons is that statements like ‘We have to be sustainable’ or ‘Let’s go for circular economy’ are a lot easier said than implemented, as the reality is that it is very complex.
Sustainability impacts all aspects of an organisation and many questions arise when a company embarks on the circular economy mentality strategy:
Ecodesign; how do we design a product for a circular cycle?
How do we select our raw materials and how about the supply?
How can we organize the treatment of post-consumer waste?
How should we change our business models?
Today, Fa still sees mostly large companies committing to the circular economy, as it requires a lot of financial means and efforts on the human resources side to achieve it. Despite the complexity, there are already several examples of companies that have resolutely made the choice and investments and also achieved very good results.
A strong signal as this shows that these companies are already fully committed to a more sustainable future and also see this as the way forward.
However, not everyone is there yet. Fedustria has 95% of small and medium-sized companies and for them, sustainability still represents a big challenge. Most of the time it is not that these companies are unwilling, it is just that they do not know how or where to start. Some others also feel that they are too small to really make a difference. And these perceptions are holding these companies back, penalizing them.
Fa emphasizes how important it is, not only for Fedustria, but for all, to convince, also these smaller companies that sustainability is the way forward, and that no matter the size of the company, everyone can make a difference already today. You can start with small steps but it is important that we integrate sustainability into the core of the company, right into the strategy. And we should not wait for this change, as sustainability also requires time and collaboration with partners outside the company. The sooner you start, the better.
There are 2 other key challenges that we need to work around with the industry that could lead to significant long-term shifts:
- The price of recycled fibres vs virgin fibres: the customer will not be willing to pay (much) more for sustainable products. As the market grows, the competitiveness of circular supply chains will also strengthen.
- Shortage of recycled fibres: we need to focus on reintegrating recycled products into the production process at a competitive price.
Despite the challenges, the direction for the future is clear. So we need to give time to the companies to adjust and find their way and convince those who are still hesitant.
Economically VS ecologically
Fa sometimes feels that the balance between economics and ecology is lost. He explains that both are important, but that a business cannot be ecologically sustainable if it’s not economically sustainable, because it has to make enough money to be able to afford to be/go green. The company must therefore be viable and profitable.
To rebalance it, Fa says that when a company commits to sustainability, it should not lose focus on economic redundancy. We will never have an ecological paradise in economic ruin.
The drivers of sustainability
The crisis is often seen as a barrier that prevents companies from taking their first steps toward sustainability. Yet, sustainability will be increasingly demanded by customers, the market, and distribution in the future. Today already, big retail companies and governments are imposing sustainability and circular economy requirements.
In the coming years, this increase in demand for sustainability will affect all companies, so it is really the only way forward.
Too many guidelines and legislation?
In terms of European guidelines and legislation around sustainability, Fa thinks that today, there are just too many of them on too many aspects. It’s so complex that most companies are not even able to understand or follow them.
Focus on your strengths!
Fa advises all to be self-confident! Even though the current circumstances are not the best, people in the industry must continue to focus on their strengths and believe in themselves, as it will be the best way out of the crisis.
If this episode has inspired you to continue investing in sustainability and new collaboration, know that you can count on the support and experience of the Ellie.Connect network and the Ellie team along the way!