"It's impossible to survive if we don't develop new solutions"

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Albertina Reis is the Head of R&D at Riopele. At a time when there is so much talk about the reindustrialisation of Europe, she takes the pulse of the sector.

She believes that Portugal will continue to play a very important role in the international fashion industry. But for this to happen, it will be necessary to "rethink the way we develop fabrics and create design".

1. In the recent past, there has been recurrent talk of the return of production to Europe. Why do you think this is happening?

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the supply chains of Asian exporters, forcing Europe to reflect on its heavy dependence on raw materials caused by deindustrialisation. In addition, other issues such as transport costs and unaffordable lead times have also contributed to a review of the entire production cycle to the consumer by the major brands. It's also worth noting that traditional businesses are starting to focus their value proposition on sustainable products and production, without neglecting price. I believe that all these factors have led to a reorientation of the textile industry towards Europe.

2. In your opinion, has the national textile and clothing industry developed sufficiently in recent years to become a viable option for the future?

The evolution both in terms of technology and knowledge in this field of activity in Portugal has evolved and developed considerably from design to execution. We had the capacity to reinvent ourselves, through the vision of investing in innovative solutions, seeking to diversify product ranges with an emphasis on quality as a process and product with an emphasis on R&D projects, as well as with collaboration between companies and technology centres and universities, increasing the skills of our human resources.

3. You head up one of Riopele's most important sectors, R&D. Is development capacity one of the strengths of the Portuguese industry?

This will surely be the driving force behind our ability to remain competitive, to stand out and be strong on the international market. I would even go so far as to say that without the ability to develop, it is impossible to survive. Today, with the speed at which we are evolving in all processes, the acceleration of ongoing development and with all the associated digital communication, it is imperative that we maintain this constant dynamic to meet the needs of the fashion industry.

4. From a production point of view, how will the Portuguese textile and clothing industry develop?

It will have to continue its process of evolution towards diversification, with innovation and quality being essential to ensure the added value that is always in demand. To achieve this, it is important to work towards excellence not only in production lines, but also in the effectiveness and efficiency of processes.

5. Could artificial intelligence be a solution or a threat?

It definitely presents itself as an excellent solution to enable us to do well and develop at a lower cost. This is one of the points that I consider to be crucial in our field and which will be one of the most important forces in technological transformation in the future.

6. Leading companies have invested significantly in sustainability and even in the development of a new generation of products. What developments are expected in the years ahead?

In addition to the whole process of compulsory legislation and standardisation around the world, the revolution in this area of sustainability is so vast that it will certainly involve the ability to convert waste or surplus textiles from their most diverse origins into new raw materials. I would say that part of this process has already begun with new raw materials in terms of cellulose fibres, but a revolution is still needed in this area.

7. What do you mean?

The entire industry will have to reduce the consumption of virgin raw materials and use new fibres derived from waste, working on the subject to explore biodegradability properties. This whole process will require us to rethink the way we develop fabrics and create designs. With these new fibres and intelligent fibres, it will be possible for the textile industry to have a positive impact on the planet.

8. What role does a country like Portugal have in the future of the textile and clothing industry?

I'm convinced that Portugal will play a leading role, starting with our DNA, which links us to the textile sector. Moreover, we are internationally recognised as capable, competent and innovative. The entire value chain has been able to reverse the course that seemed to have been set a few decades ago. Portugal needs the textile industry in its balance of trade, so it must continue to boost and support this business sector.