Technical Textiles Deputy Digital Editor, Andrew Rhoades, spoke with Maria José Machado, CEO of Axfilia about the company’s knitted protective textiles built on Portugal’s reputation for quality.
As a country, Portugal is cultivating a growing reputation for high-quality textiles in all segments. With a plethora of universities, research institutes and dedicated companies specialising in textile production at each stage of the supply chain, the textiles made here are increasing in quality.
One specialist area of textiles on the up at present is the protective segment. Wise Guy Reports projects that the global market for protective textiles will reach a value of US$8,802.2m by 2026. Interestingly, Europe accounted for the majority share in the global protective textiles market at the beginning of the report’s forecast period in 2017, suggesting an increasing focus on these textile products. Due to increasingly stringent regulations, workers are required by law to have a higher level of protection.
One company operating in this space is AxFilia. The company, based near the northern Portuguese city of Braga, is an expert in manufacturing knitted garments for the specialist areas of corporate wear, workwear and protective wear, also known as PPE (personal protective equipment). AxFilia works on the development of yarn to the final clothing assembly and the process’ respective certification.
CEO Jose Maria Machado explains: “We are specialising in knitwear not only for protective clothing and baselayers, but also for outerwear outdoor clothing,” says Machado. “We do quite a lot of business with Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, which is where our core business comes from, and we work with big companies that have more than 1,000 workers.”
As AxFilia’s entire supply chain is located in Portugal, the company is in a special position to manufacture its high-quality products at a competitive price. However, this is only possible due to what Machado describes as a collaborative ecosystem in which companies from across the supply chain work together.
“We have [manufacturing] programmes that last three to five years, and we produce 100% in Portugal,” says Machado. “It is like an ecosystem that we are in because although we are not a vertical company, it is very easy to find competition in Portugal. Therefore, we join forces with other companies, so from the spinning of the yarn through to the final garment and certification, everything is done by Portuguese companies.”
The collaborative nature of the Portuguese textile industry has had a clear impact on the country. The majority of its textile manufacturers, specialist textile universities and research institutes such as CITEVE and CeNTI are all based in the north, ensuring closer collaboration and, in some cases, shorter lead times.
“We have technological centres, we have spinning mills, dye houses, confectioners, and all of these form part of a very important ecosystem that works like a well-oiled machine that then exports to the rest of Europe and beyond,” says Machado.
She states that this relationship is vital to the performance of Portugal’s textile market, which is one of the key industries in the country. “The textile business is very important for the Portuguese economy. Almost everything is located in the northern parts of Portugal, which is why we are all very close geographically, but we have universities that support a lot of innovative projects.”
This has meant that AxFilia has been able to put more efforts into research and development in collaboration with its partners, particularly in relation to new products. Much of these focus on more sustainable materials but, like other segments of the textile manufacturing industry, AxFilia is exploring processes that use fewer natural resources.
“Of course, we are developing more complex products with a higher value, more quality, and sustainable products, which is very important, and we use recycled polyester and bio-cotton, among other materials,” says Machado. “The industry is aiming to change the way we produce by using recycled water, less energy, photovoltaic panels, and new energy sources. A lot of new things are coming into the industry that the final client cannot see, but we are trying to put this into figures so that the client can see it.”
Machado spoke at length about the reputation Portuguese textiles have for quality; something which helps distinguish AxFilia’s textiles from its international competitors. Initiatives like From Portugal, an umbrella under which Portuguese companies exhibit at international textile exhibitions, help spread the word and get brands out onto the scene.
“We need to stand out for one reason, and I think the Portuguese market has that ability,” says Machado. “Of course, we need to sell the quality of our products and market them in such a way and I believe that the From Portugal brand is having a positive impact in Europe, not least for the shoes industry which is very well known and important in fashion. When people pick up a shoe that says, Made in Portugal, they think about quality and that is where we need to move in this fashion textile workwear clothing.”
Knitted workwear is growing in popularity, not least as it offers the wearer increased comfort and flexibility while giving them the same level of protection. Due to this, many companies are exploring and indeed releasing more products of this nature. However, regulatory hurdles remain, influencing the way many knitted workwear items are developed.
“This importance of knitting in workwear is because there is a trend that started some years ago to move from fabrics to knitwear in order to improve the comfort of the workers,” explains Machado. “But, to make knits comply with workwear standards is a very difficult step. That is why we work very closely with raw materials producers such as Cordura, Schoeller, and Kermel, and we develop yarns and knits with them to see if it works. Therefore, it is very important to work closely with these raw materials producers.”
AxFilia is hoping to extend its range of knitted workwear into the military segment, while it is also working to incorporate added functions such as insect repellency into its garments. Machado explains: “We started last year working on the military area more and we were invited to participate in some tenders, and we are adding some functions to the knitwear in this space. So, anti-mosquito is a growing area and we are building up a garment that meets the right standards. We are working very closely with the European Commission and we want to improve the thermal comfort in military.
“There is a lot going on in the mosquito repellent spaces at the moment, especially with REACH,” Machado continues, highlighting the regulatory work of the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals.
She adds: “REACH is really limiting what insect repellents we can use as active ingredients in garments. That is why we have a partnership with a German company that has a patent; it is a company called SeaCell. They produce anti-mosquito products that comply with REACH’s standards.
“There are a lot of solutions out there, but if you want to comply with REACH there are not so many eligible ones. The regulations keep changing almost every year for protective clothing. They are mainly changing for sustainability reasons which is, for sure, the first point. There is a huge lobby from some brands to change some standards and regulations, but at this point in Europe, I see that it is almost solely for sustainability reasons.”
However, if companies within the Portuguese textile ecosystem continue to work together, more research and development will take place to develop cost-effective and sustainable knitted workwear that continues to meet REACH’s high standards.
“The Portuguese ecosystem is very important for this association and the partnership is not only for fashion. More and more it is looking at workwear and we want to highlight that,” concludes Machado.
For more information, please visit https://www.wtin.com/article/2019/november/251119/collaboration-the-key-for-axfilia/