Thai Textile and Apparel Industry

Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that can supply the complete textile industry chain, from upstream, through midstream, to downstream, from petrochemical and natural fiber production, to fabric and textiles, all the way to design, production, and sale of apparel, home textiles, and technical textiles, textiles used primarily for functional purposes by industry.

From an historic base of silk and cotton production, Thailand’s textile industry has diversified into a combination of petrochemical and agricultural companies that supply the synthetic and natural fibers and filaments used to manufacture textiles for fabrics and apparel manufactured and sold in Thailand and the rest of the world.

Following are more details on Thailand’s thriving and innovative textile and apparel industry:

Fiber:  Thailand has large-scale manufacturers producing synthetic fiber and natural fibers.  The country’s sericulture or silk worm farming industry produces silk filament, which is naturally ecofriendly and non-allergenic, making it soothing to the skin.  World-renowned as a silk producer, Thailand spins and weaves silk by machine and on hand looms.  Fine machine-loomed silk is found in upscale homes, hotels, shops, and even palaces. Thailand also produces both organic and inorganic cotton, though on a small scale.

Yarn:  Thai manufacturers spin or twist yarn – natural (cotton and silk), synthetic, blended, and fancy yarns.

Textiles: Thai textiles include woven, circular and flat knitted, non-woven, as well as fashion, home, and technical textiles.  Large-scale millls with the most modern technology and machinery and specialized, smaller mills produce a wide variety of textiles that are sold to customers around the world.

Finishing , Dyeing and Printing:  Thailand’s eco-friendly finishing, dyeing, and printing services meet U.S. and EU standards.  Manufacturers use chemicals that have been proven to do no harm either to humans or to the environment.  Thailand’s thriving cottage industry is recognized for creating beautiful hand-crafted items that tend to use natural, plant-derived dyes to color natural fabrics such as silk, cotton, and hemp.

Apparel:  Thai companies produce woven and knitted clothing for men, women, and children, including intimate apparel; swimwear; casual, outdoor, and sports clothing; formal and evening wear; bridal attire; high-fashion apparel; socks, stockings, and panty hose; functional clothes; and uniforms.

High Fashion Apparel:  Several Thai designers have made their debuts in Japan, Europe, and the United States, often to great fanfare.  For example, clothing designed by Sretsis, a Bangkok-headquartered firm founded by three sisters, has captured public attention when worn by such celebrities as Beyonce, Paris Hilton, January Jones, and Zooey Deschanel.  Also making a splash these days in upscale department stores and boutiques in the United States are colorful children’s clothes produced by Thai companies for popular household brands.  Barneys and Kitson, for example, sell “Millions of Colors” childrenswear made by the Thai company Heart and Mind and designed by Rujira, aThai designer.

Thai textile and apparel manufacturers range in size and capabiltiy from large-scale to the hand-made, cottage industry.  They operate as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and original design manufacturers (ODMs).

Thai companies comply with all international standards and requirements including those governing human rights, labor, and the environment.

Thai Innovations:  Thai researchers have been among the leaders in the textile and fashion industry, developing such innovations as anti-bacterial fabrics made from polyester mixed with coconut charcoal powder; anti-bacterial, anti-dust mite, herb-coated bed sheets; anti-bacterial nylon socks; solar-powered jackets; heart rate monitoring jackets; and special jackets for extremely cold weather.  In addition, several Thai mills are meeting the demands of various industries by rolling out technical textiles such as geotex (used in erosion control), agrotex (for crop protection), medtex (used in implants, dressings and other medical purposes), protex (to make protective clothing and masks), mobiltex (to create fabrics used in the automotive, aerospace, railway, and marine sectors), and indutex (for awnings, tarps, filters, and other industrial purposes).

While Thailand’s textile and clothing sector was founded on low-cost labor, today the government and the private sector are concentrating on making the industry more competitive by encouraging further innovations, modernizing technology for greater efficiency, and improving the skill and competency of the nation’s garment and textile businesses. The Thai Textile Institute works with textile and clothing manufacturers to improve their design, management, and brand-name development and to establish relationships with foreign firms.  The Thai Textile Association works with industry and government to upgrade the quality of textiles, assist small-scale and cottage producers, and promote textile manufacturing enterprises.

The Thai government’s strategy to encourage the industry’s development includes the following components:

  • Increase loans to support exporting capability
  • Encourage professional training and education to enhance the expertise of the textile and apparel industry workforce
  • Strengthen and further build the supply chain network by combining relevant clusters that include cloth and yarn producers and garments and encourage producers to use raw materials from Thailand
  • Increase the industry’s efficiency and reduce costs to be more competitive
  • Focus on value-added products such as those requiring design and high-end techniques, as well as increase the capability of manufacturers to produce more popular products
  • Maintain and exceed compliance with global standards
  • Encourage the private sector to conduct more international business

Through a variety of programs, Thailand’s Department of Export Promotion (DEP) has helped the companies keep abreast of evolving international fashion trends and produce materials that meet global demand, such as bringing a textile specialist from Italy to Thailand to advise on conceptual trends and styles.

One of the leading forces in improving the industry’s competitiveness is Thai Tex Trend or T3, a consortium of 12 leading textile manufacturers.  T3 members are upgrading the textile industry, emphasizing design and technology in weaving, knitting, dyeing, finishing, and printing.  Each T3 manufacturer produces different types of products, such as as high-fashion knitted fabrics, wrinkle-free fabrics, and CottaZilk®, a hybrid fabric composed of high-quality cotton fiber and Thai silk.  DEP and T3 members regularly exhibit at major textile shows around the world including Texworld Paris, Pret a Porter, Saigon Fabric Garment Accessories, Hong Kong Mode Lingerie, Intertextile Shanghai, and BIFF, the Bangkok International Fashion Fair.

The Thailand Trade & Information Service maintains a Website, FashionBiz, with information on the fashion industry in Thailand.  It also provides content and services to the manufacturing and logistics industries in Thailand.  While most of the information is in Thai, if you see something of interest, please contact Thai Trade Center to ask for an English translation.  Another source of information on Thailand’s apparel industry is the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association.

Snapshot of the Thai Textile and Apparel Industry
Main Thai Export Items (%)
Apparel 90.24
Brassieres 7.82
Form fitting: stockings, leggings. tights & socks 1.64
Cloth gloves 0.30

Number of Textile Industry Manufacturers by Size
Small (fewer than 50 employees) 1,492
Medium (50-200 employees) 697
Large (more than 200 employees) 339
Total number of textile manufacturers 2,528

Total industry employment: 824,500 employees

Main target markets: The United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom comprise the primary markets for Thai apparel, accouting for nearly 54 percent of all exports.  A new and growing market for Thai clothing is Russia, which accepts slighlty more than 39 percent of Thai apparel exports.

Textiles and apparel are among Thailand’s top 30 exports to the United States.  In the first three months of 2010, Thailand shipped apparel and clothing accessories valued at $110.96 million to the United States, an increase of more than 54 percent over the same period in 2009.  From January through March 2010, Thailand shipped bras and related items valued at $40.46 milllion to the United States, a growth rate of nearly 16 percent over the same three months in 2009.  Thai January-March 2010 exports of baby garments were valued at $25.64 million, down slightly from the first quarter of 2009.

For more trade figures, visit the Office of Commercial Affairs, Royal Thai Embassy, USA.