THE Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) celebrated its 48th anniversary early this year with a textile conference–”Philippine Textiles: The Future Today.”
Times have changed for the textile industry that reached a high in the 1960’s then plummeted to near disaster after.
At its peak it had huge, fully integrated textile mills that did everything –spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing. It produced and exported garments under a system that used quotas. Mills would have continuous production of one item giving them economy of scale and good profits. But problems came into the textile industry with the advent of cheap textile imports, the abuse of the quota system (entities with no mills had quotas allowing them to bring in raw materials, real mills had none) and with low prices combined with high wages, there was a general shutdown.
But some textile mills did not give up but re-invented themselves and with the help of PTRI research and technology they have slowly come back to life using a different business plan. Now there is a healthy export of undergarments, sportswear, socks, basically niche markets.
And with the help of PTRI new technology, there will be more to come.
These mills renovated themselves by forming a tripartite partnership consisting of the textile industry, Labor and Government (the Department of Labor). Through dialogue among themselves they came up with a better co-existence between Management and Labor giving them the push towards doing better.
Meanwhile PTRI (an agency under the Department of Science and Technology) has provided them with nano technology ie. technical innovations that enhance the textiles towards a higher quality that makes for niche markets. The Philippines has an abundance of natural fibers like abaca, piña, tnalak, bamboo, waterlily, etc. which are much in demand among textile users. With the use of nano technology that makes them softer, more pliable as well as resistant to water, fire, stains, static, even bacteria, they become unique textiles that are much in demand in the market. These technologically sophisticated products are for niche markets not mass production which means they are specialized and receive higher returns.
One interesting textile innovation resulting in a new textile is called primatex which is a natural fiber constructed from ordinary pineapple leaves, the leaves left behind by the harvest of the pineapple fruit. These leaves are not to be confused with the source of piña fiber, the Spanish Red Pineapple plant. Rather, they are the detritus left behind in ordinary pineapple fields like the ones in Tagaytay or Camarines Norte. The leaves are processed through decorticating and degumming them to produce fibers that are then woven by a machine into a leatherette-like textile called piñatex that is environmentally friendly being the byproduct of pineapple plantation waste of which only 5% is wasted compared to 25% waste in real leather production. Piñatex can be used for clothing, insulation, anti-bacterial material and even wound dressing for its breathable, natural characteristics. It also gives pineapple farmers that much added income now that the leaves are useful.
Another new textile is abaca denim which with a new process produces a pliable and durable material good for jeans and other clothing items. This latter process was done in Japan when a Japanese agency was working with abaca farmers and experimented on how to make more use of the material. It has since been brought to our textile industry and is now in full production giving abaca farmers a new market for their natural fiber.
Other news from the conference is that Filipino clothing brands can stand up to global brands in the malls and markets here by emphasizing their Filipino identity and delivering quality. One brand Unica Hija recounted how it went back to basics by concentrating on their customers’ preferences when faced with global brands.
They found out that customers actually prefer to buy local if it offers value for money. It made them focus on their merchandise and discern that quality would win over price. So, they use the best fabrics, improve workmanship, maintain high standards and pay the price for it. The latter means they invested in Philippine labor, paid the wages it wanted and got labor to deliver quality workmanship and world class merchandise. Their goal is to come up with 90% Philippine content in the near future as well as continue to emphasize Filipino identity in their products.
In all of the above, PTRI nano technology for textiles will help. PTRI is also focusing on handloom textiles, a precious traditional heritage all over the country, by being pro-active in promoting handloom products. They plan to target five general provinces in three main regions by putting up 10 centers for handloom production and innovation using natural fibers from abaca, pineapple, silk, cotton, bamboo, waterlily, including synthetics like PET (polyester from plastic bottles) where they will have handlooms for weaving, use of natural dyes and nano technology.
Another goal that PTRI is aiming for is to produce enough material from our variety of natural fibers to fully implement RA 1942, the law mandating the use of our native fibers in government office uniforms.
It was really stimulating to hear all of the above and see how government agencies, like PTRI and DOST, have taken charge of enhancing our textile industry.