Rayon is a cellulose-based textile produced from wood pulp. This natural product is as absorbent and breathable as cotton. (Photo by Nafinia Putra on Unsplash)

Textile: Indonesia's New Export Darling

JUNE 24, 2019

Jakarta. The textile industry was one of Indonesia's largest earners of foreign exchange last year, with exports valued at $13 billion, marking a 5 percent increase from 2017.

Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto said the industry has become more competitive in both the domestic and international markets, referring to last year's growth rate of 8.75 percent.

"Besides being one of the main economic drivers for the country, the industry also provides jobs to more than 3 million people and it focuses on exporting [its products]," the minister added.

The textile industry is also not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon, with data provided by Statistics Indonesia showing projected growth of 19 percent this year.

In the first three months of 2019, clothing production skyrocketed by 29 percent on export orders, boosting the industry as a whole and contributing to a 4.5 percent increase in overall production in this period.

"The textile industry has become one of our most reliable and contributes a great deal to our economy. Therefore, it is our duty to maintain the competitiveness and longevity of this industry," Airlangga said.

Muhdori, the ministry's director of textile, leather and footwear industries, explained that the strong growth can be traced to large investments by the upstream sector, specifically the rayon industry.

Rayon is a cellulose-based textile produced from wood pulp. This natural product is as absorbent and breathable as cotton.

One example is rayon producer Asia Pacific Rayon (APR), which invested Rp 11 trillion ($777 million) in its operations at the end of 2018. The company has a current annual production capacity of 240,000 tons, half of which is exported. 

"This is how we've been able to boost our exports. Supply from upstream industries has helped push downstream industries, benefiting the whole industry. This was marked by a 1 percent growth in the textile industry in the first trimester of 2019," Muhdori said.

The government also imposed regulations in 2017 to control foreign competition by limiting imports, which were reduced by 2 percent in the first trimester of this year.

Sustainable Fashion

Ali Charisma, chairman of the Indonesian Fashion Chamber, said APR has been a welcome new entry in the Indonesian fashion industry. As a designer himself, he thinks APR could help push the boundaries of fashion with the versatility of the material it produces.

Ali said rayon fibers are easy to mix and match with other materials. It is also soft, drapes well and dyes easily – excellent attributes for a material suitable for use in high and mass-market fashion. 

As the fashion industry's demand for more environmentally friendly materials keeps increasing, APR has also made sure that all its rayon comes from renewable and biodegradable materials,  

"Renewable" in this case means that the raw materials used to make APR's rayon are sourced from industrial forests. "Biodegradable" means the resultant material can decompose easily.

Indonesia is currently one of the largest producers of rayon in the world. By keeping its rayon production domestic, APR hopes not only to help the local fashion industry grow, but also to reduce its reliance on imported raw materials. 

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