Published September 2015
This report presents an overview of the global supply and demand for natural fibers (cotton and wool) and man-made fibers (synthetic fibers and cellulosic fibers), broken out by major world regions. Because of regional differences in data collection methods, certain fiber data (polyolefin fibers, as well as lyocell fibers) are not included in the world totals but can be found in the respective regional sections of the report.
China is the largest manufacturer of synthetic fibers. It accounted for 66% of the global production of synthetic fibers (excluding polyolefin fibers) in 2015. India is still the second-largest producer with over 8% of global production. India surpassed Taiwan and the United States as a fiber powerhouse in the mid-2000s, thanks to the huge polyester fiber capacity buildup that occurred. Taiwan and the United States are relatively equal in the third position, each accounting for about 4% of global production. Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania became the fifth-largest output regions in 2014, surpassing Western Europe. The Western European region was sixth in synthetic fiber production in 2014.
Once led by many well-known fiber producers in the United States and Western Europe, today’s top five producers are headquartered largely throughout Asia.
The following pie charts show world consumption of natural and man-made fibers by type and by region:
Asia’s fiber industry remains export-driven, and domestic demand for textile products in the region is growing.
High-performance fibers are being used successfully in apparel, home furnishings, and industrial applications. Microfibers and specialty high-end blends used in apparel are generally targeted to high income individuals. As a result, the demand for high-end gowns and specialty home textiles remains solid. While high-end industrial fibers in automotive applications were hard hit by the economic slowdown, in general, high-end industrial products are produced to meet specific criteria and are not quickly or easily replaced by lower-cost, competing fibers. As a result, high-performance, high-value-added specialty fibers are better able to ride out temporary market slowdowns.
On the negative side, fear of economic collapse can derail consumer spending. For example, the US market has shown how a stagnant labor market and mounting consumer debt can negatively impact consumer spending. At the peak of the recession, individuals reduced expenses and moved disposable wages into savings. Significant home foreclosures and the subsequent declines in home sales negatively impacted demand for textile goods, and rising unemployment contributed to a massive decline in new automobile sales. Despite the government’s substantial 2009 stimulus package, the US economy remains sluggish. Furthermore, the lingering eurozone debt crisis plus a weakening Chinese economy all contribute to muted growth in the short term.
In addition, major cotton- and wool-producing regions of the world are highly dependent on climatic conditions and pest infestations. For example, India is starting to see a massive reduction in snowmelt in the Himalayas, which leads to less available water in downstream rivers and irrigation systems. The United States also experienced reduced cotton crops in 2011 due to drought. Other countries that may be affected include most African and Middle Eastern nations. In the future, water restrictions may lead to cotton becoming a higher-priced, specialty fiber.
Entering 2015, the global economy was affected by many factors. Commodity markets are searching for a bottom, eurozone economies have debt problems, China has rapid growth deceleration, emerging markets have plummeted, corporations are persistently cautious with investments, and inflation is a problem in some regions. Therefore, global fiber consumption is expected to grow by just 2% from 2014 to 2015.