Smart Textiles for Sports

The current report aims to provide stakeholders with an analytical base helping to strengthen cross-regional cooperation mechanisms to boost the deployment of KETs in Europe. The report specifically aims to highlight the value chain structure, key players and constraints for the domain of smart textiles for sports in Europe. It also addresses the key strengths and potential of the EU regions, as well as promising business opportunities and key risks and challenges. Finally, the report elaborates on specific policy recommendations with both immediate focus and longer-term orientation.
Smart textiles for sports have a potential to bring a dramatic change in the way athletes at all levels train. Most major sports already started taking advantage of the growing use of technology. Although it is still an emerging area, several products have already been introduced to the market, and the number of those is growing. In this domain, Europe is reported to be particularly strong in research, product development and prototyping, including the integration of electronics into textiles. When it comes to manufacturing, at this point, it is still at a small scale in Europe, as it is also in other world regions.
Smart textiles for sports operate in the value chain comprising multiple actors from four distinctive industries (namely electronics, textile, clothing and software) spread across different parts of Europe. The latter underlines the need for cross-regional partnerships. The value chain for smart textiles in sports can still be considered immature and emerging. The community is dominated by SMEs, working in flexible networks and alliances. Key constraints of the value chain stem from product development being driven predominantly by technology push, many products only reaching the prototype stage, absence of large-scale manufacturing and challenges related to connecting multiple highly diverse value chain players.
There are only few manufacturers in Europe that could take on large production volumes. The smart textiles for sports domain currently exhibits a small market demand. A rapid growth in demand could, however, signify an increased attention also from manufacturers from the United States and Asia. Stakeholders suggest that there is a high chance that large-scale production for mass consumers will not take place in Europe, especially at the level of garment production on a large scale. Europe, however, has a high potential for leading the manufacturing of more advanced custom-made products. The latter refer to smart sportswear for professional athletes and for higher-end customer segment.
The value chain activities currently are organised not at the level of specific regions, but as activities of individual actors spread across diverse EU regions. The key risks and challenges include high production costs, limited consumer acceptance, regulatory gaps, limited investment opportunities of European manufacturers, skills mismatches and lack of a pan-European approach towards addressing the abovementioned challenges.
There is a need to build on strong points of each region rather than trying to develop full value chains at the regional level. The specific identified measures with immediate focus include developing the EU standards for smart textiles for clothes; providing better regulatory guidance for companies active in the domain; advancing the requirements of Horizon 2020 calls to cover the whole value chain beyond prototyping; and enhancing the pan-European platforms bringing all key actors together. The identified measures with a longer-term orientation imply addressing the key skills-related challenges, namely training multidisciplinary professionals with a practical orientation and work experience during education; as well as facilitating the development of a large-scale manufacturing facility.

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