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The textile industry of Egypt

12 % of Egypt's export earnings come from the textile industry. Egypt hosts the largest and most productive textile clusters in Africa.
© Freepik

The textile industry in Egypt is an important economic factor and has developed impressively in recent years. Twelve percent of export earnings come from the textile industry. Egypt hosts the largest and most productive cotton and textile clusters on the African continent, as the entire production process - from the cultivation of raw materials (mainly cotton) to the manufacture of yarns, fabrics, filament yarns and fibres, and the production of ready-made garments - takes place in Egypt. With a volume share of about 75 % of natural fibres, cotton is by far the most widely used natural fibre for home and apparel textiles.

In January 2023 Egypt ranked #4 among the developing countries at the worlds biggest trade fair of textile industry heimtextil. Besides 18 exhibitors from Egypt  429 companies from China presented their products, followed by India (382), Pakistan (269), and Bangladesh (20). From the Arab world only Morocco (9) and Tunesia (2) attended. 

Export volume of Egyptian textile products in US dollars (THTEC)


The number of establishments in the overall textile sector was 85,000 in 2018, according to a census by the CAPMAS statistics office, of which 6500 are textile-only factories (THTEC). Foreign direct investment in the textile sector in Egypt led to the establishment of 452 new companies between January 2016 and April 2019 (GAFI). The textile industry accounts for 3.4 per cent of the gross national product. 2.5 million people are employed in the sector. Over the past 10 years, Egypt has seen steady growth in production and exports of woven and knitted fabrics, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12 per cent between 2011 and 2020, due to an increase in direct private sector investment by Egyptians, Arabs and other nationalities.

In 2021, the textile sector generated export revenues of US$3.7 billion (THTEC). This corresponds to twelve per cent of the total export of 31 billion. But the domestic market is also impressive. Egypt has become a consumer market of considerable importance in the region, as evidenced by the arrival of global brands and the sharp increase in retail sales in recent years. This is partly due to the sheer size of the Egyptian population, making it the most populous country in the Middle East. 


The most important export countries of Egyptian textile products (THTEC)


Egypt's main export items are denim, other woven fabrics, cotton yarns and non-woven textiles. Egypt's main export regions are Asia (including Turkey), the EU, the Middle East and the rest of Africa.

Egypt's vertically integrated value chain, its traditional textile industry and the availability of experienced and skilled labour make the country an ideal sourcing centre in Africa. An important factor for the success of the Egyptian textile industry is the availability of cheap labour. Egypt has a well-trained workforce capable of producing high-quality textile products at affordable prices. Around 1600, cotton was still a luxury good in Europe, valued no less than silk. The reason for the high value was the high labour input during processing. The removal of the bolls and the laborious carding of the fibres, which were very short compared to wool and silk, were particularly labour-intensive. Before 1750, English spinners were not able to spin cotton threads strong enough to produce pure cotton fabrics. Pure cotton fabrics were only produced in India at that time.

Another important factor for Egypt is its geographical location. The country has excellent transport links to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, making it an ideal location for the textile industry. In addition, a number of free trade agreements make Egypt a hub for exports to Europe (EFTA), the Arab world (Agadir), the United States (Qualifying Industrial Zones) and Africa (COMESA).

Egypt has a long tradition of textile production dating back to ancient Egypt. Egyptian cotton has been among the most valuable in the world for centuries. The most expensive are the extra-long staple fibres of the Egyptian lace cotton variety Giza. This comes from the cotton plant Gossypium barbadense, which produces the best qualities worldwide. Gossypium barbadense, with a staple length of over 32 millimetres, accounts for about 8 % of world production. Gossypium hirsutum (Upland cotton) with a staple length of 25 to 30 millimetres has a share of 90 %.

In 1820, Muhammad Ali began building a modern administration and promoting the economy by establishing export-oriented industries. His land reforms proved very profitable for Egypt with the cultivation of cotton, among other things. Towards 1820, cooperation with the Egyptian governor Mako Bey and the French engineer Louis Alexis Jumel furthered the development of long-staple cotton (Gossypium barbadense). The term Mako is still used today to describe fine Egyptian cotton with a silky sheen. New varieties of cotton were developed through breeding. In the last half of the 19th century, cotton production in Egypt increased dramatically due to the expansion of irrigation and the increased demand resulting from the Civil War in the United States. Egyptian cotton has been of great importance ever since.

King Fouad I visits the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company


In 1920, Talaat Harb founded Misr Bank as "an Egyptian bank for Egyptians only". The aim was to provide capital for large Egyptian industrial plants. Talaat Harb was an Egyptian economist, banker and politician who played a leading role in the development of the Egyptian economy and especially the textile industry in the 1910s. In addition to Misr Bank, he founded the Egyptian Society for the Promotion of Industry and was one of the architects of the Egyptian Economic Plan in the 1920s, which identified and supported the textile industry as a key industry.

Together with other Egyptian businessmen, Talaat Harb founded the Misr Spinning and Weaving cotton factory (Misr Helwan) in 1927 as one of Misr Bank's flagship projects. Cotton production occupied 2.1 million hectares of cultivated land after the Second World War. Nevertheless, cotton production in Egypt declined after its post-World War II peak as arable land was converted to cereal or clover crops and earlier importers, including India, became self-sufficient in cotton.

In 1960, Misr Helwan was the first company to be nationalised by Gamal Abdel Nasser. The company began to diversify its cotton sources and products, and in 1975 established a garment division to complement its cloth manufacturing. In 1976, the United States Agency for International Development granted the Egyptian government a $96 million loan to help modernise Misr. The loan sparked controversy among American textile manufacturers, who were facing losses as global textile markets expanded. Misr Spinning and Weaving Company opened the world's largest spinning and weaving factory in Mahalla El Kobra. Covering an area of around 62500 square metres, it accommodates more than 182000 workers with an average production capacity of 30 tonnes per day.  

Mahalla el Kobra is the centre of the Egyptian textile industry. Almost half of the exhibitors represented at this year's most important industry fair, Heimtextil, came from there. The textile industry in Mahalla el Kobra has undergone great development in recent years and is now the most important source of jobs and economic growth in the region. There are many small and medium-sized enterprises that are active in the textile sector. However, much of the textile production in Mahalla el Kobra is still organised in traditional handicraft enterprises and there are challenges in modernising and automating production. Compliance with labour standards and environmental regulations is also a challenge for many companies.

CAPMAS: Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics
GAFI: General Authority For Investments
THTEC: Textiles and Home Textiles Export Council