Key findings after the successful A+A Tradeshow Düsseldorf (Germany): PPE and workwear, more sophisticated than ever

The tradeshow A+A in Düsseldorf is the world largest show about occupational health and safety. The largest segment of the exhibitors presents Personal Protective Equipment, Workwear and their components from fibre to textile care. This also makes it the world largest tradeshow for textile PPE and Workwear. The 2019 show was extremely busy and presented a rally of innovations and new concepts. CINET was in Düsseldorf to cover the event. A detailed CINET report of this worldwide leading event!

The ppe- and workwear market has shown good growth rates especially in Germany, Europe’s largest market. They were fuelled on the one hand by a remarkable long period of economic growth and on the other by a fundamental change in the driving forces of the market. While the economic growth in Germany is dwindling, well reputed analysts have also seen a negative growth rate of the ppe market. But A+A 2019 was not at all reflecting that. The trade show was very busy, even exciting. Exhibitors and buyers or specifiers gave positive feedback and talked about high quality contacts, a good business climate and tremendous networking opportunities. The A+A organisation spread the official numbers, which clearly exceeded A+A 2017 (see table “Key Figures A+A”).

New driving forces
In earlier days, the main driving force of the ppe market has been the changes in ppe norms and standards. This has changed in the last decade. Coming from workwear free of safety standards and regulations, the preferences of wearers gradually gained importance in specifying workwear. Workwear became heavily influenced by outdoor and sportswear styles, which created a very dynamic competition in the workwear industry to the benefit of wearers, which in due course became more demanding.

Key Figures A+A 2011 2013 2015 2017 2019*
Exhibitors 1.596 1.607 1.897 1.936 2.119
Domestic 523 519 574 575 569
Foreign countries 1.073 1.088 1.323 1.361 1.550
Visitors (admissions) 60.105 63.493 65.244 67.248 73.000
Domestic 44.598 47.048 44.366 35.372 n.a.
Foreign countries 15.507 16.445 20.878 31.876 n.a.
Gross Area (qm) 115.100 114.400 123.000 124.000 n.a.
Exhibitor booth space (qm) 57.544 60.696 68.245 70.643 78.428

Base: AUMA, *preliminary results Messe Düsseldorf

Thus workwear became a statement of professionalism and craftsmen fashion. Meanwhile, a company will not introduce new workwear or corporate wear without consulting heavily with their employees. Even more so as the role of workwear wearers has been strengthened dramatically by the shortage of qualified labour. Companies have recognized that workwear is an important medium of loyalty and attractivity to strengthen the ties to their employees. Workwear became also a means in the competition for qualified employees. On top of that, safety and wellbeing of wearers have gained importance as part of a shift in company values: companies carry more social and ecologic responsibility. The textile ppe market has a time lag in responding to these developments, because of technical barriers set with the safety standards, but in the end textile ppe is also workwear.

These new driving forces seem to overcome the negative impact of decreasing growth rates, especially in the producing and exporting industries, at least for some time to come. A+A furthermore seems to have given an additional positive push for new businesses. Many companies reportedly wanted to visit the A+A show before deciding about new ppe and workwear.

Trends in workwear and ppe
The orientation of workwear along preferences of employees and the sustainability policies of companies led to a couple of trends. A+A reflected those trends and put them forward. Let`s start with a quick list of trends and favoured features, which characterize the current product development in workwear as seen at A+A 2019:
(1) more comfort, including ergonomic aspects of typical moves at typical work places;
(2) more functionality;
(3) multifunctional ppe, especially defining adequate work specific mixtures of applied safety norms;
(4) more style;
(5) higher importance of brands;
(6) more CI and individualization of ppe;
(7) products from sustainable production sources;
(8) longer life cycles, especially the suitability for industrial washing;
(9) improved delivery service;
(10) special fit for women;
(11) digitally augmented ppe and workwear;
(12) increasing importance of basic articles with low price barriers.

Remarkable uptrading
Though many of these trends are not new, they are all valid. In the process of implementing them in workwear and ppe, we observe a remarkable uptrading. This uptrading testifies also to the fact that, at least in the German market, a further growth will presumably be more driven by quality than by quantity as the wearer potential will not grow considerably for quite some time.

One direction of uptrading is to increase the level of wearer comfort, especially in ppe. Black and white safety was higher in ppe with heavier fabrics than with lighter fabrics. Here, the weight has been reduced time and again.

Another direction is to integrate more and more of the desired features. In our view this is one of the major developments in 2019/2020. Products are getting much more complicated. They integrate as many of the listed features as possible. Price doesn’t really seem to be an important barrier, especially if the workwear or ppe is distributed via wholesale and retail.

Workwear producers as innovators
If we analyse, for example, the new workwear range “Bodyforce”, produced by the largest German workwear company Kübler, we need more than 30 minutes to really understand the features and values of the product. The sales teams need special training to be able to properly present all its valuable features.
The start is a brand-new Rep-Heringbone weave, which allows not only for a fresh optic and a comfortable haptic, but also has a higher tearing and tensile strength than usual. A special feature is the extensive and sophisticated use of stretch in several areas, for example at the neck, elbows, and in the arms-shoulder zone to facilitate work over head. Similarly, body force uses stretch inserts at legs, hips, bottom and seam to support all moves below the waistline, making them easier while also adding stability. The quite extensive use of stretch also enables a modern cut of the entire garment, which is optically reinforced by reflecting stripes in Y- shape.

Kübler’s Bodyforce (Photo: Kübler)

But it is not all about comfort and craftsmen’s fashion. In addition, Bodyforce offers Cordura inserts for rough handled areas like knee protecting pockets, ruler pockets and leg pockets.
All this is fit for industrial washing as per EN ISO 15797.

One more point needs to be established here: usually it is said, that genuine apparel  innovation is based in the textile industry from fibre to finished piece. Only the fashionable cut is merited to confection as innovative. However, observing how diligently materials are selected and integrated from the very sophisticated perspective of workwear or ppe needs, we need to acknowledge a genuine and important innovation role of the product development at confection stage. This holds often true also for multifunctional ppe, which requires very high skilled product developers and extremely quality conscious workers. High performance confection is an innovation driver of workwear and ppe in itself.

Merge of workwear and PPE
As mentioned, ppe is reacting to workwear trends with a certain time lag due to technical apprehensions and barriers set by technical safety standards. A+A 2019 witnessed the presentation of many ppe ranges taking specifically into account that they should be, also visibly, a part of workwear without safety conformity.

A good example here is Bierbaum Proenen (BP) with their new BP Multi Protect Plus. Aside from the fact that this range is a good example of the integration of many trends stated above, it is optically also clearly designed to match with the workwear collection BPlus. All garments of Multi Protect Plus can be combined with BPlus, thus allowing for a homogenous look. This concept is becoming more and more prominent, seen also at Pionier, Kansas, and others.

BP Multi Protect Plus (Photo: BP)

Meanwhile, nearly every ppe and workwear supplier offers at least one line including an aspect of sustainability. If not, they have announced plans for 2020 to start working with a flavour of sustainability. The approaches vary on a very broad range from incorporating an amount of labelled sustainable cotton to plans for a complete wear2wear cycle.

An important topic at the A+A show has been the completion of sustainable workwear by using recycled polyester. Based on the earlier move to use labelled sustainable cotton, the polyester part is now frequently offered as recycled polyester, which gives a fully sustainable produced garment. BSP
However, with regard to this recycled polyester questions are already luring. How often can polyester and sustainable cotton parts be recycled? How will the quality level develop following the number of cycles?
The “mass balance” principle, offered by Cotton made in Africa and by Fairtrade, also raises questions. An initiative of the major ppe and workwear companies, Bierbaum Proenen (BP), Kübler, Greiff and Weitblick, together with textile fabric supplier Klopman, announced the use of a high amount of Fairtrade cotton. This clearly supports the case of Fairtrade cotton and its main target to improve the living conditions of cotton farmers. However, it does not comply with wearer preferences: to be dressed in workwear from a sustainable source. This is because the bought Fairtrade cotton can be substituted by cotton from common sources. This degree of freedom allows continuation of the traditional production chain, which is very sensitive, especially if geared to textile services. But it also stabilizes the traditional production chain, starting already at early stages. It avoids, for example, purification costs in Sri Lanka or other places, where cotton is prepared for spinning. The partners, including Fairtrade, know this. They use a modified Fairtrade logo: “Supporting Fairtrade Cotton” (see logo).

At the other end we see approaches that try to establish full recycling loops. Dutch companies are prominently pushing forward these concepts and actions. Ten Cate and HAVEP presented visions and concepts for a circle economy. Also Sympatex, Schoeller from Switzerland and partners, presented “Wear2Wear” as a closed loop concept.

TenCate supports Environmental Product Declarations
Ten Cate invited partners and customers at A+A 2019 to communicate two messages:
(1) a reduction of the ecological footprint is more effective if all partners in the textile circle work together and facilitate other parts of the chain in the reduction of their target;
(2) the Environmental Product Declaration serves very well as a document of ecologic transparency.

If one extends the textile value chain with the elements of (1) textile care (laundries) and (2) recycling, and visualizes this as a circle to be taken care of, then it quickly becomes obvious that each part of this circle can contribute to the success of the other parts, especially to the next link, which is usually a customer of the previous link.

If the target is to reduce the overall ecologic footprint, it is useful for the different elements of the value circle to talk and exchange information. This kind of intense networking was the intention of TenCate at A+A 2019.

TenCate stresses the responsibility of all partners in a cycle of care for the world (graph: TenCate)

TenCate uses the Environmental Product Declaration as a transparent and clear information tool. It provides transparent, verified and comparable information about the life-cycle and environmental impact of products and compares it to traditionally produced products in the same category. The International EPD System is a global programme for environmental declarations based on ISO 14025 and EN 15804. It is established in Sweden and has offices all over the world.

EPD makes ecologic progress concrete and measurable. The EPD for TecaWork EcoGreen showed substantial progress in areas like (1) global warming potential, (2) acidification potential, (3) water scarcity potential, etc.

More sustainability with Lyocell
One of the most important reasons for the reduction of the ecological footprint is the substitution of cotton by Lyocell. This move has been executed by TenCate in the TecaWork EcoGreen, but other fabric companies are also striving for more sustainable fabrics. Klopman for example uses a blend of Tencel and recycled polyester in its Greenwear range.

More PPE and workwear for laundries
A trend which is especially important for textile services is the rise in the number of workwear and ppe ranges which are ready to be industrially laundered according to EN ISO 15797. We have seen this at Pionier, Kübler, BP, and also HB Protective Wear. There are several commercial reasons for it:
(1) companies giving ppe to their workers are increasingly aware that they have a responsibility to safeguard the protective functionality of ppe. Also in general, they are more concerned about the functionality and look of their workwear. This raises questions to the distribution system: how can the textile care be executed? The retail and wholesale system is better equipped to respond to these requests if they have more ppe and workwear that can be industrially laundered.
(2) There are companies which want to choose for professional cleaning of their ppe and workwear, but don’t want to buy the garments from textile services. This is similar to (1), but the motive behind it is that these companies for some reason don’t want the full service package.
(3) The market share of textile services has increased slowly but steadily, at least in Germany, in the workwear but also in the specialized ppe market. This is likely to go on because of the many benefits of textile services. Companies which are strong in the wholesale and retail system often see potential to grow with textile services.

So far our observations at A+A 2019. They are further away from covering specific innovations, like for example the printed workwear fabrics at Klopman. There are so many developments that it would require a specific interest to filter what matters to which individual business and what isn’t. That can only be evaluated by personally visiting the show. The next opportunity for this will be in 2021, October 26 – 29, at the Düsseldorf fairground.