Flax: a key study to establish the sector's priority issues
The Alliance for European Flax and Hemp pulled out all the stops when it brought together flax growers, luxury groups, sector managers and regional presidents on March 21 at the Petit Palais in Paris. The focus was on a comprehensive study taking stock of the European flax industry and pointing to the major development projects that lie ahead.
"Who wears linen here? Many hands were raised among the 140 professionals present in the amphitheatre where Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, spoke on Tuesday with Hervé Morin, his counterpart from the Normandy region, which is also a major flax producer.
In fact, the region co-financed the report, which is the result of a hundred or so interviews conducted with key players, industries, brands, experts and representatives of Chinese and Indian spinning mills. This document was produced by Kea & Partners in collaboration with the IFM (French Fashion Institute) and its main findings can be consulted on the Alliance's website.
This in-depth work should serve as a basis for the Alliance, which identifies five major issues awaiting the industry. Starting with the agricultural sector where two issues have been identified: producing better and producing more. In terms of quality, the report points out that improvements will be achieved particularly through laboratory fields and the increasing acquisition of special equipment dedicated to flax, from seed to scutching. It also points out that quantity can vary from one harvest to another, creating large price fluctuations.
"Demand exceeds supply"
"We are experiencing an unprecedented paradox: there is tension on the supply of fibre, which means that we are reaching unprecedented prices," says Bart Depourcq, president of the Alliance and director of the Van de Bilt company. "This can be explained by the fact that we have had some complicated years and production has declined. This has led to significant price volatility, with demand exceeding supply. And the health and international situation is also playing a role, while we have a growing market for flax."
After the agricultural phase, challenges start to arise at fibre production and spinning mill levels. The report points out the weakness of insufficiently standardised production quality, and stresses the importance of moving towards a common reference system for the entire flax sector. The European sector, which produced 63.7% of the world's flax in 2021, compared with 48.8% in 2010, can play a driving role in this area.
A fourth issue highlighted by this report is the question of spinning. While Europe has 128 scutching lines and produces 72% of long fibres, 73% of flax yarn is spun in Asia. However, the Alliance's economic director, Damien Durand pointed out that there is a phenomenon of reindustrialisation of flax spinning mills in France and that the latter is part of the very closed circle of countries with a complete value chain for flax.
"The long fibre value chain is unique, even in the context of the complexity of the textile-clothing sector," says Céline Choain, senior partner at Kea & Partners. "It is unique because both the upstream players (farmers) and the downstream players (brands) systematically compare linen to other productions". While the expert confirms a growing desire for natural materials in clothing, she emphasises that linen is also facing challenges in this area.
Attracting brands and designers
Another important issue is the relationship between brands and linen. In recent seasons, the material has made up a large share of fashion collections.
Linen represented up to 10% of collections made by luxury brands such as Max Mara, Jacquemus, Galeries Lafayette or Le Slip Français, and up to 5% for luxury brands such as Chanel, Balmain, Chloé or Hermès. But for Alexandre Capelli, deputy director of the environment for the LVMH group, this craze is not without obstacles. "My main difficulty is to convince the creative teams," explains the manager. "Linen provides Loro Piana, Dior and Vuitton with many solutions. And there is a gigantic universe to explore with mixed linen, and our houses are in the process of understanding this," points out the manager. He also points out that linen is the only material that allows LVMH to simultaneously move towards its four objectives: climate, biodiversity, traceability and circular creativity.
Pascal Morand, executive chairman of the FHCM (federation of haute couture and fashion), agrees saying that: "The link with designers and creative directors is very important. But it is also important with textile creators. We're in the business of marketing an offer, and consumers do not know what they wants until the product is presented to them. So you have to arouse the designer's desire," says the manager, who is not short of compliments. "European linen is like Paris Fashion Week: it is a world leader," he says.
"It's an uncompromising study on the expectations of brands with regard to linen: it's up to us to listen to them and integrate them," says Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung, general delegate of the Alliance, for whom the biggest task for the sector will be to align the individual and collective issues. For the head of the European organisation, the flax sector can, through its structure and certifications, set the standard among textile materials. "We can make flax and hemp the international reference for textile-clothing materials," she insists.
The European flax and hemp industry represents some 10,000 companies in 16 European countries. Flax is produced almost exclusively on a coastal strip from the Netherlands to Normandy, using little water and requiring few inputs.
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