Eco-friendly Leather: the growing specialization of the European industry

The EU trade balance of Textile Coated Fabrics (polyurethane and/or polyvinyl chloride) has been steadly growing in recent years.


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As already documented in a previous article, the European non-woven fabrics industry is characterized by a favorable evolution. In particular, within the applications related to the Fashion system (outerwear, footwear, fashion accessories) the so-called pleather and synthetic leather (which are referable to as Coated Fabrics) have increased in industrial applications.
The analysis presented here refers to the increasing specialization of the EU industry in these products1, driven by consumption patterns (such as eco-sustainability and the so-called fast-fashion2) and a significant technological innovation in the use of new materials.

The graphs shown below document the evolution of foreign trade in EU countries with reference to the two main types of Coated Fabrics for fashion applications: with polychloride vinyl and with polyurethane. In both cases we note a positive and increasing trade balance of EU countries; in particular, in the segment of fabrics coated with vinyl polychloride EU exports have exceeded 670 million euros in the last two years, with a trade balance of almost 200 million euros last year; in the segment of fabrics coated with polyurethane the trade balance of the EU countries exceeded 400 million euros last year, with exports of over 1.2 billion euros.

EU Trade of Coated Fabrics

EU Trade of Textile fabrics coated, covered or laminated with polyvinyl chloride EU Trade of Textile fabrics coated, covered or laminated with polyurethane

Considering also all the other processes of Coated Fabrics (see the customs codes reported in note 1), the trade balance of the EU industry was almost equal to 937 million euros last year, over half a billion higher than 2009, when - in conjunction with the Great Recession - the balance reached a minimum point.
Based on the forecasts made by StudiaBo and available in the ExportPlanning's Datamart in the Analytics section, in this industry a further strengthening of the commercial position of the EU area is expected in the three-year period 2019-2021, with an expected surplus of 1.1 billion euros in 2021.

Evolution of EU trade balance of Textile fabrics coated, covered or laminated (Mn €)
Segment 2000 2009 2018 2021F
- with polyvinyl chloride 136.3 30.4 194.6
- with polyurethane 185.5 178.2 401.7
- others 165.6 178.3 340.4
Total 487.4 386.9 936.7 1 100.0


The above analysis confirms the presence of significant opportunities, current and prospective, for technology suppliers on the markets of the Old Continent, which might benefit from a particularly dynamic and competitive downstream industry.

1) The basket of products considered in this analysis consists of Textile fabrics impregnated, coated or covered:
  • with polyvinyl chloride (CN590310.90) [excl. wallcoverings of textile materials covered; floor coverings consisting of a textile backing and a top layer or covering of polyvinyl chloride] ;
  • with polyurethane (CN590320.90) [excl. wallcoverings of textile materials covered with polyurethane; floor coverings consisting of a textile backing and a top layer or covering of polyurethane];
  • others (CN590110.00, CN590190.00, CN590310.10, CN590320.10, CN590390.10, CN590390.91, CN590390.99, CN590700.00).
2) See the following ExportPlanning article: Fashion seasons: "Fast-Fashion", a new model of social-driven consumption.