Japan is the world's leading silk consumer.
Silk has a miniscule percentage of the global
textile fibre market-less than 0.2%. This figure, however, is
misleading, since the actual trading value of silk and silk
products is much more impressive. This is a multibillion dollar
trade, with a unit price for raw silk roughly twenty times that of
raw cotton. (The precise global value is difficult to assess, since
reliable data on finished silk products is lacking in most
importing countries.) To give an idea of the value, however, the
annual turnover of the China National Silk Import and Export
Corporation alone is US$ 2-2.5 billion.
Unlike some other textiles, silk-wearing
traditions and demand go back a long way. A good example is India,
where the local demand greatly exceeds supply (and hampers export
growth). India has thus become the largest importer of raw silk,
despite the fact that it is now the second largest producer. Some
other silk producers are also experiencing fast-growing local
demand, such as China, where consumers are increasingly able to
afford the lower price range silk products. This pattern is also
expected to repeat itself in Viet Nam.
Italy and France
Raw silk importers, high-quality processors
Italy has been traditionally the largest importer, processor and
exporter of silk products in Europe. In 1997, Italy imported some
3200 tons of raw silk and over 700 tons of silk yarn, primarily
from China. Italy also imported about 300 tons of ladies' blouses,
of which over 80% came from China. Silk garment imports, however,
have drastically gone down over the last five years. (In 1992, the
country imported more than 700 tons of ladies' blouses.) Italy is
well-known for highly developed skills in silk processing
(finishing, dyeing and printing silk fabrics). Exports of silk
scarves rose by about 15% between from 1996 to 1997, to 586 tons.
Exports of silk neckties reached 1230 tons the same year.
France is another country with a considerable silk processing
industry. For centuries, Lyon has produced silk fabrics of the
highest quality for domestic consumption and for export. More than
70% of silk fabrics in the French market have been traditionally
used for clothing. There are signs that silk may have a growing
market also for interior decoration use as curtains, wall covers,
bed spreads and upholstery. France exports top quality silk fabrics
to the US market, with unit prices reaching US$ 30 per m2.
Emphasis on easy-care fabrics
The US market is one of the world's largest, and imports include
garments, interior decoration fabrics and accessories. Silk
processing capacity is virtually nonexistent. Imports of silk goods
were valued at about US$ 2 billion in 1997; 10% was for home
furnishing. Unlike European consumers, US consumers do not have a
long tradition of using silk. Silk therefore has never had the same
aura as in Europe. The United States has been a pioneer market for
imported Chinese knitted silk products, initially mainly thermal
underwear, and now also elegant casuals in the form of T-shirts,
polo neck sweaters, etc. Easy care is a "must" in the United
States, so it is important to develop fabrics with easy-care
properties to compete with other fibres.
Europe's largest silk market, quality-conscious,
to "green" marketing
Germany is by far the largest European market for textiles and
clothing, including silk. The German consumer favours natural
fibres. Germany has been importing a variety of silk garments,
accessories (particularly silk cushion covers) and interior
decoration fabrics. Silk garments are imported mainly from China.
India and Thailand have been relatively successful in this market
with their handloom silk products for home furnishing. The market
is quality-conscious and prepared to pay a premium for good
Traditionally the largest silk consumer, Japan in the 1960s
relied entirely on local silk production, mostly for kimonos.
Between the 1970s and today, local silk production dropped from
over 20,000 tons to less than 2000. The country now depends on
imported silk goods, particularly from China. Kimonos still absorb
about 50% of the total raw silk consumption in Japan, down from 90%
in the 1970s. Silk is little used in interior decoration. The
decline of the Japanese silk processing industry is having a
serious effect on Brazilian sericulture, which caters largely to