Abstract: Really “losing the thread”? The History of the German Textile Industry from a Value Chain Perspective

Jan-Otmar Hesse

Abstract

The textile industry of the Federal Republic of Germany is usually considered as one of the struggling industries of the country’s structural change that also brought the iron and steel industry as well as coal mining to its knees during the 1960s. As Stephan Lindner put it, the textile industry “lost the thread” (Lindner 2001). However surprisingly, in the nineties German textile and apparel industry still was among the top exporting countries in a number of commodity categories. The development partly finds its explanation in the increasing impact of synthetic fibres so that the country profited from its strength in chemical engineering. However, the fact that Germany still is one of the largest global textile exporters without having a significant textile manufacturing industry remains puzzeling.

The talk suggests that the puzzle can easily be solved by paying attention to the organisational transformation of the global textile industry. From the perspective of the global value chain-approach as suggested by Gary Gereffi et. al. (Gereffi/Sturgeon 2005; Gereffi 1994), it can be shown the German textile industry very early started to move up the value chain in global textile production and specialised in the high value added and less labour intensive parts of the production process. The talk further more addresses the question why Germany was successful in applying that approach in contrast to other countries (e.g. Britain).

The textile industry of the Federal Republic of Germany is usually considered as one of the struggling industries of the country’s structural change that also brought the iron and steel industry as well as coal mining to its knees during the 1960s. As Stephan Lindner put it, the textile industry “lost the thread” (Lindner 2001). However surprisingly, in the nineties German textile and apparel industry still was among the top exporting countries in a number of commodity categories. The development partly finds its explanation in the increasing impact of synthetic fibres so that the country profited from its strength in chemical engineering. However, the fact that Germany still is one of the largest global textile exporters without having a significant textile manufacturing industry remains puzzeling.

The talk suggests that the puzzle can easily be solved by paying attention to the organisational transformation of the global textile industry. From the perspective of the global value chain-approach as suggested by Gary Gereffi et. al. (Gereffi/Sturgeon 2005; Gereffi 1994), it can be shown the German textile industry very early started to move up the value chain in global textile production and specialised in the high value added and less labour intensive parts of the production process. The talk further more addresses the question why Germany was successful in applying that approach in contrast to other countries (e.g. Britain).