The textile industry is one of the largest markets in the entire world. It employs more than 25 million people and generates $450 billion worldwide. The garment industry as a whole is worth $2.4 trillion and responsible for 2% of the entire world’s GDP. It’s also notoriously rampant with worker abuse, as companies outsource manufacturing to sweatshops in third world nations.

The United States may be a large player in the world of textiles and apparel, but they’re not the largest. This is an industry that requires an entire world to function — from the European fashion market, which is the largest in the world, to India’s growing silk industry. This textile industry information and cotton industry information will give you a greater background about the sector's sheer enormity and some of its very serious issues.

What Is the Textile Industry?

Any article doling out textile industry information or cotton industry information will tell you that the textile industry is fabric focused. It’s the industry that’s responsible for taking raw materials like cotton or wool, spinning it into yarn and creating the fabric for your favorite t-shirt.

All processes — from developing textiles, producing textiles, manufacturing textiles and distributing textiles — are part of the textile industry. Needless to say, this industry is the foundation for a number of other industries including the fashion industry, retail industry and even some aspects of the military.

The Top Textile Manufacturing Countries

With growing textile technology, textiles are used in everything from artificial heart valves to aircraft bodies. There’s barely an industry out there that doesn’t use some sort of textile product, which explains its massive impact on the global GDP. Some of the top textile manufacturing countries include:

  • The United States, which is the largest garment importer in the world and second-largest exporter of textile-related products
  • China, which leads the charge in cotton manufacturing
  • India, which is the largest silk manufacturers on the planet
  • Bangladesh, which is a hub for garment manufacturing

The Textile Industry in the United States

Apparel manufacturing in the United States is on a serious decline. The demise of American Apparel — a once-trendy, American clothing manufacturer that had 250 stores at the height of its success — was just a symptom of the problem. Clothing manufacturing has shrunk a whopping 80% within the U.S. in the last 20 years, but the U.S. textile industry still employed 594,147 workers in 2018. It’s also estimated that every U.S. textile manufacturing job supports three other jobs.

Complementing the shrinking textile manufacturing share, the United States has become the largest importer of garments in the world. In other words, a huge portion of the international textiles industry is funded by U.S. retailers and clothing brands. The U.S. has also become the second-largest exporter of textile-related products in the world. In 2018, U.S. exports on apparel, fiber and textiles topped $30.1 billion.

Americans also spend a whole lot of cash in the textiles sector. On its own, New York City’s fashion week adds a whopping $20 million to the U.S. economy — and that's just a week. Manhattanites spend around $362 per month on clothes, while the average American household spends about $2,000 a year on clothing, footwear and textile-related services.

The U.S. is a leader in textile research and development. The industry is always moving forward. From 2006 to 2017, the United States invested $22.8 billion in new textile plants and equipment — this also includes recycling facilities that convert textile and textile-related waste to new textiles and resins.

The Textile Industry in China

China’s textile industry accounts for a large swath of the textile products available in the United States and around the world, but where they really shine is in the cotton sector. There's nearly a 50-50 chance that the cotton t-shirt you’re wearing came from China. The country is, after all, one of the top textile manufacturing countries and the largest manufacturer of cotton shirts in the world. Some key cotton industry information about China is:

  • The country has 4,700 acres of cotton farms.
  • These farms make 90 million yards of high-quality cotton textiles every year.
  • The country manufactures around 60 million cotton tees every 12 months. 

With an output like that, it shouldn’t be surprising that a whopping 40% of apparel products sold in the United States are imported from China. China is also responsible for 54% of the world’s total textile production.

Unfortunately, textile production isn't without its problems. It's one of the three biggest water-wasting industries in China and creates 2.5 billion tons of wastewater each year. So yes, buying used clothes really does help reduce your carbon footprint. China also doesn’t uphold Fair Trade Certificates so there is no way to fully ensure that laborers are not exploited.

The Textile Industry in India

Behind China, India has the second-largest textile industry in the world. They’re the second-largest silk manufacturers in the world and create around 18% of the world’s silk. The race is also particularly close in the realm of cotton manufacturing and exports. Each year, cotton brings India $6.3 billion and employs around 40 to 50 million workers, including 5.8 million farmers.

As a whole, the country’s textile exports reached an impressive $50 billion in 2014. In 2015, both textiles and apparel hit a combined $108.5 billion market share. By 2023, the market in India is expected to hit $226 billion. India currently holds 23% of the world’s spindle capacity, meaning if India’s textile factories were totally knocked out, we’d have around a quarter less fabric crafted every year.

Textile Industry Workers and Working Conditions

Textile industry workers historically get the short end of the stick — from America’s devastating 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire to the modern-day fast fashion industry which relies on cheap labor from third world manufacturers. Retailers like TopShop, H&M and Forever 21 have all been criticized for exploiting sweatshop workers, and only $3 billion of the $450 billion generated in the textiles industry is considered fair trade or environmentally stable.

The textile industry in Bangladesh is perhaps one of the most egregious examples. Though textiles are responsible for around 80% of the country’s earnings, workers only make a minimum wage of around $95 per month. This is an increased rate. In 2013, the minimum wage was raised after an industrial building housing numerous garment factories collapsed and killed 1,130 textile workers and injured more than 2,000. There have been around 50 major fires that have wounded thousands since the 1990s.

Beyond unsafe conditions and cramped spaces, workers in Bangladesh are often subject to 80-hour weeks. They frequently finish at 3 a.m. and report back at 7:30 a.m. The industry is also prone to sexual harassment because 85% of Bangladesh's garment workers are women.

Exploitation on the Home Front

Exploitation doesn’t just extend to foreign nations. Generally, textile mill workers earn 136% more than clothing store workers and have healthcare and benefits in the United States, but this isn’t always the case. A Los Angeles Times investigative report found that garment workers in Southern California earned as little as $4 an hour making clothes for retailers like TJ Maxx and Forever 21. At the time, California’s minimum wage was $10 per hour.

More recently, there's been a trend for retailers to responsibly disclose their manufacturers. In 2016, this extended to retailers like Cotton On Group, Disney, Adidas, Fruit of the Loom, Gap, Hanes, Nike, New Balance, Target, Patagonia, Puma and Kmart. This is a step forward because it holds retailers accountable for the welfare of the people they employ in countries that may not have the same employment protections as the United States.

The Textile Industry Information: Textiles and the Military

The textile industry within the United States is also a huge support to the military. The industry supplies more than 8,000 different textile products to the U.S. military every year — from aircraft bodies and body armor to uniforms, tents, medical gear and stealth technology.