Published: December 27, 2018Updated: October 30, 202214 min read
I had the opportunity to visit Poland in September on a trip sponsored by The United Nations and Polish Investment & Trade Agency. And, not only was I blown away by the Made in Poland clothing movement, but the country as a whole.
But, before we get started.
Have you heard about the super secret document that everyone in the fashion industry uses, but no one is talking about? Probably not. That is because you can't find it on Google or TikTok (believe me, I've tried).
It's a form I have used for over 13 years at every job I have ever had. Literally everyone from brands to fabric suppliers use it, but you can't find it anywhere publicly.
The best part?It can cut your sourcing time in half, and save you tons of money in product development! This is the kind of info consultants charge the big bucks for. And, I'm giving it away for free until the end of the month.
Poland is probably the best-kept manufacturing secret in Europe right now. And, you know me, I am all about sharing all the fashion industry insider secrets. So, if you have been thinking about manufacturing in more buzzed-about places like Portugal or the United Kingdom, I highly suggest you start learning about Poland for all of your manufacturing needs.
POLAND - THE EU’S BIGGEST SUCCESS STORY
Currently, Poland ranks first in the number of investment projects in the CEE, with 256 new business projects in 2018. That is a 21% year-over-year increase. In case you don't know, the CEE, stands for Central and Eastern European Countries. The CEE is a group of countries including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and of course Poland.
Poland also takes second place for job creation, thanks to a staggering 22,074 jobs, due to FDI (FDI stands for Foreign Direct Investment) emphasis. The only other country creating more jobs than Poland is the UK.
POLAND HAS A GOAL TO DRESS THE WORLD
I am going to hit you with some even more impressive facts and figures now.
Poland can pump products out!
They take second place in the entire EU for a total number of manufacturers. There are a whopping 26,600 clothing companies located in the country.
And, made in Poland is serious about ramping up its export game. Between 2012-2016 international sales of Polish clothing increased by 70%, going from EUR 2.6 billion to EUR 4.4 billion. Estimates predict that by 2022 the Polish fashion market will be worth more than EUR 10.3 billion. So, to break that down for you, that’s 50% growth in just one decade.
SO, WHY MAKE IN POLAND?
Well, there are quite a few strategic business reasons why you might want to consider adding Poland to your supply chain - here are a few…
Poland has a strategic geographic location at the center of Europe. The country borders Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. The capital of Poland is Warsaw and transportation is convenient by plane, train, and even car to other major European cities like Berlin, Moscow, and Vienna.
One of the most important geographic advantages of Poland is the country's access to the Baltic Sea and that the country has four major ports of import/export - Gdansk, Gdynia, Świnoujście, and Szczecin, plus, dozens of smaller local ports.
Poland is one of the most important countries in the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), with four major international trade routes. Poland is so crucial to logistics, that the EU has been proactive in sponsoring infrastructure developments to help increase access, with an emphasis on road development.
And, according to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Poland is one of the fastest-growing aviation markets on the continent. This is in part thanks to low-cost flights, and Polish airports acting as hubs for European travel. As Poland's popularity as a trade and travel destination continues to grow the Polish government is making plans for the expansion and creation of additional airports.
Poland’s central location and description as the gateway to Europe has influenced foreign companies to invest, specifically in logistical centers responsible for moving goods throughout the EU. Because of this foreign demand, Poland has over 11.2 million square meters of warehouse space available for rent, with 75% of that space centrally positioned around the capital of Warsaw.
LABOR - A YOUNG, HIGHLY EDUCATED POPULATION
Poland considers its people one of its greatest assets. And, because of this, foreign investors appreciate their labor force too.
Poles have excellent qualifications, strong communication skills, and are proficient in many languages. They are innovative, creative, and well-educated. Because of this, finding well-qualified employees that will work for reasonable rates is easy.
There are 38.5 million Polish citizens, and in comparison to other European countries, they are young. About 42% of the country's population is under the age of 35.
There is a priority on education
Poland has 370 academic centers that teach 1.5 million students. Poland is so focused on education that 1/10 of all students in the EU are Polish. This academic push is aided by over 95,000 specialists who teach at the university level, with over 45,000 of them holding Ph. D.’s.
In all of Central and Eastern Europe, Poles account for only 24% of the population but account for 40% of the region's GDP. What this means is that they are high-level, hard workers.
Poland's high importance on education has led to groundbreaking scientific discoveries including the discovery of the first extrasolar planetary system, technology to produce a blue laser, a new production process to create the world's smallest synthetic diamonds, a way to isolate queen cells from bone marrow, an unmanned helicopter, a modern prosthetic hand, and in 2018 the launch of the first Polish commercial satellite.
Polish scientists were part of the Rosetta mission - the first procession landing on a comet.
Polish students even figured out a way for cars to drive 607 kilometers on only a single liter of fuel - inventing the Kropelka at Warsaw University of Technology.
Technology drives innovation and contributes to a healthy economy, and Poland is on the cutting edge.
Poland is stable and extremely self-reliant with a healthy domestic market. In 2016 the relation of exports to GDP was only 52.1%. To put that into perspective, nearby countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia were at 79.3%, 92.2%, and 93.6%. This indicates that Poland’s self-sufficient economy is protected by foreign markets. Part of the reason for this is that the zloty is still relatively weak in comparison to the Euro, making exports cheaper and more profitable for foreign investors, and keeping domestic goods expensive.
Poland also keeps a low debt, at 53.2% of GDP, with other countries in the union ballooning to offer 83.5%
Poland offers special incentives for foreign investors - areas of support include, special economic zones, real estate tax, financial support from European Union funds (specifically for research and development), and employment opportunities.
SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONES
Special economic zones (SEZ), are special areas of Poland that have extra benefits for investors. The purpose of these zones is to encourage foreign business and accelerate growth in strategic geographic areas.
Currently, there are 14 Special Economic Zones. They were established in 1996 and will continue to operate until 2026.
These special economic zones are located in Slupsk, Sopot, Suwalki, Olsztyn, Kostrzyn, Legnica, Kamienna Gora, Walbrzych, Katowice, Krakow, Mielec, Tarnobrzeg, Starachowice, and Lodz.
INCOME TAX EXEMPTION
One of the key advantages of doing business in these zones is an income tax exemption for entrepreneurs. And, the minimum investment to take advantage of these zones is EUR 100,000.
REAL ESTATE TAX EXEMPTION
Real estate tax exemption is also offered in these special economic zones.
R&D TAX RELIEF SCHEME
This specific type of aid for foreign investment is relatively new. It was only introduced in January of 2018. This special new legislation allows companies that are conducting their research and development phase in Poland to deduct 100% of their costs.
And, as an added bonus these deductions can be taken with other deductions for a total of up to 150%.
Poland is second for automotive manufacturing output. There are a total of 40 automotive plants in Central Eastern Europe, and 16 of those factories are in Poland. Fiat, Volkswagen, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz all use Poland as a central manufacturing hub.
Poland is also one of the EU’s top manufacturers of trucks, buses, and trams.
Poland has over 200 aerospace companies, that employ over 30,000 people and is a member of the European Space Agency.
Although rapidly growing, biotechnology is a new industry in Poland.
Move over China, Poland is one of the biggest suppliers of electronics, specifically TVs to EU markets.
Poland specializes in meat, dairy, alcohol, fruit, vegetables, and sugar and is home to international corporations like Heinz, Unilever, and Nestle.
Companies like Microsoft, HP, Google, Oracle, and IBM all take advantage of Poland's highly educated workforce and low labor costs.
Poland aims to tap into its favorable wind conditions and increase their renewable energy to 15.5% by 2020.
NOW, LET'S SKIP TO THE GOOD PART - MY TRIP
I spent my time in Poland in three main areas - Łódź, Garwolin, and Gdańsk. And, while my trip to Poland was in the fall (it was a bit chilly) I heard the spring and summer are the most optimal times to visit (if you are like me and totally hate the cold, would probably avoid visiting during the winter).
DESTINATION 1: Łódź Area
I flew into Warsaw and headed for about 1 hour to my hotel in Pabianice (Pabianice is about a half-hour drive to Łódź where most of my meetings were).
After arriving in Warsaw, the first stop on my trip was the City of Fashion Ptak.
Ptak Fashion City is exactly what it sounds like, it is a huge retail and entertainment complex spanning an area of over 250 thousand square meters. But, my purpose there was focused. I went to check out the Ptak Wholesale Center which is the largest wholesale clothing center in all of Central Europe.
For my US readers, you can think of the setup kind of like LA's New Mart and Cooper Design space, except way more sprawling.
The wholesale center has been around for 30 years, houses more than 2000 manufacturers, and importers, and hosts over 9 million visitors from all over the world each year.
This is basically the place to network in not just Poland, but all of Central Europe.
There I was able to meet with a whole bunch of Polish manufacturers including - ADIKA, TWO MOON, MALECKA, AND AND R. OLA VOGA, COCOMORE, SELLINI, ME GUSTA, PAPARAZZI, S.MORRIS, BE FIRST, MISS CITY, EDAN, O.N.E. FASHION CLUB, BY OLA LA, BLUE SHADOW, NORBI, LEMONADA
If you only have time for a quick supply chain visit to Poland I recommend prioritizing this as a stop for a wide range of fashion sourcing needs.
Next up, I visited GATTA - FERAX. They are a leader among domestic manufacturers of tights and stockings. And, recently they have expanded the range into athleisure and swimwear.
The factory that GATTA produces their tights in is the WOLA Hosiery Industry Plant. The factory has been in operation since 1945.
One of my favorite parts of visiting this pristine (seriously, it was the cleanest factory I had ever been in) was the tubes that the tights were transported through that reminded me of what you would find in a hamster cage.
During my visit, I was gifted quite a few pairs of tights (mostly all in black, which is perfect, because if you know me you know I'm all black everything, all the time, even in the summer).
Update - it is now 2022, 4 years later, and I still have some of the tights I was gifted on this trip. They seriously hold up!
But, before I tell you all about CORIN, let me give you a little background on Poland's lingerie manufacturing capabilities.
The polish lingerie export industry is currently worth EUR 141 million. There are over 500 underwear and stocking manufacturers making products in Poland who export primarily to Germany, Netherlands, Austria, and Scandinavia. In the future, Poland is pushing to expand into Brazil, Canada, the USA, Hong Kong, and Australia markets.
But, back to Corin - what they are doing is incredibly interesting and is at the intersection of fashion meeting science. Which, as you know I love.
Making the healthiest bra, ever
Partnering with doctors Corin created the optimal bra collection for women's breast health.
While creating this type of product, they had to walk a fine line. Of course, they wanted the healthiest bra, but they also wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing for the wearer too.
A team from Corin along with members from the Technical University of Lodz as well as Prof. Marek Zadrożny-head of Oncological Surgery and Breast Diseases Clinic in the Polish Mother Memorial Hospital-Research Institute worked on this project together.
The multi-stage research took over a year to complete. The thesis was that bras that are ill-fitting, prevent blood from circulating through the body correctly, and actually raise the body temperature of the breasts, which can cause further health issues.
The project used Thermo cameras to map the body temperature of bra wearers. Through the imaging and many, many, many ideations of samples, they were able to create the perfect healthy bra.
Here you can see the body's reaction and increased temperatures to a poorly fitting bra and a health fitting bra.
Pretty cool, right? But, I bet you might be thinking, how can one bra fit everyone perfectly?
Well, they thought of that too.
The bras Corin created use their ultra-light 3D spacer soft foam. The unique thing about this foam is that as the foam becomes warm from the wearer's body heat, it will actually mold to them creating the perfect fit.
While I was there Corin gifted me, among many other things, a tiny miniature bra. Which just so happened to fit my dog Lil' Mama perfectly. And, obviously, I take any opportunity I can to share puppy photos!
WHERE I STAYED in Łódź
The Fabryka Welny Hotel & Spa is a boutique hotel, that was built on the former industrial empire of the Baruch family. The Baruch family specialized in the production of cotton fabrics. So, basically it's an old cotton mill.
How cool is that?
The hotel is located on the Dobrzynka River.
WHAT I ATE in Łódź
First of all, I love beats (eww-e-eww, killer tofu... am I dating myself). And, lucky for me beats are a staple in Polish food.
Manufaktura is a tax-free shopping destination. And, it has everything. Movie theatres, live theatres, restaurants, three museums (The Museum of the Factory, The Museum of Łódź, and Museum of Art in Łódź), and tons and tons of shops.
It's kind of like a mega mall, except it's outside along the river. There was even a merry-go-round!
And, you guessed it - naturally, I found the Factory Museum the most interesting.
The leather industry is another hot sector of Poland's manufacturing capabilities. In 2013 the leather industry in Poland was worth 2013 EUR 690 million, by 2016 it was worth EUR 1 billion. This rapid growth is thanks to the countries growing number of leather companies. Today, there are 5,800 leather companies operating in Poland.
Made in Poland leather is primed to compete with Italy and France for fine leather goods. Polish product offers a high quality of raw materials. And, Polish ready-made designs are on-trend at competitive price points, and with (of course) on-time delivery.
To learn more about the leather industries I visited the factory of OCHNIK. OCHNIK is one of the most recognizable Polish brands offering leather goods and clothing. And, after being welcomed by the company's president I was able to tour their factory and check out some of their products!
This was one of my favorite suppliers to meet because I learned the most. In my professional career I never really had the opportunity to work and learn about leather.
Amber is a symbol of Poland, and has been a cornerstone of Polish design for thousands of years, basically since the stone age. And, is the most famous or all the products made in Poland.
The amber found in Poland comes from the Baltic Sea, and because of this, is Baltic Amber. Polish Amber is famous for its beautiful variety of colors and magical healing and health properties.
Today, Polish cosmetic companies even make special elixirs and beauty products with amber-derived ingredients.
Thousands of years ago, during the days of the silk road, amber was one of the most important goods en route from Asia to Europe. Thus, earning the name, Baltic Gold.
AMBER - A SYMBOL OF MADE IN POLAND
Made in poland amber artisans work station.
Today, the amber industry in Poland combines new designs and manufacturing techniques with traditional craftsmanship and techniques.
Just like perogies, Amber is a symbol of Polish design and culture.
There are over 1000 Polish companies producing silver and gold jewelry with amber adornments. With most of these companies being located in Gdańsk. There is such a large market for amber design that Poland is now the third producer of silver and gold jewelry in all of Europe, and obviously first in the production of amber.
Globally, Poland has about 70% of the world's amber market. The town of Gdańsk which sits on the Baltic Sea is the world center for amber trade. Each year EUR Poland exports 200 million worth of amber jewelry to 80 different countries worldwide, with the biggest amber customers being Asia, the United States, and Western Europe.
During My time in Poland, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Ambermart Fair at the AMBEREXPO Center in Gdańsk.
Think booth, after boot of Amber jewelry suppliers.
And the best part?
Unlike many other trade shows, which are wholesale only, the suppliers here allow you to buy personal items! So, I was able to get some great gifts for everyone back home!
At the fair, I was able to meet with members of the International Amber Association, The National Chamber of Amber, and the Association of Goldsmiths' Makers Pomeranian Chamber of Crafts.
They even had a special workshop for me where I was able to polish my own piece of amber (which my mom now keeps in her garden)!
WHERE I STAYED
ps - the breakfast buffet was amazing!
IBB Hotel Gdansk. Located in the Old Town. This hotel is full of charm. The location makes wandering the streets filled with gold monuments, pastel-colored townhouses, small cafés, hand made amber artisan workshops, and street performers as easy as stepping out the front door.
These are fancy, but there are tons of veggie options (which can be at times a little difficult, yet not impossible, to find in Poland)
WHAT TO EXPLORE
Just wander about the town. It is seriously adorable!
SOMETHING COOL I DIDN'T GET TO SEE
MADE IN POLAND CHINA
Poland also has a rich history of ceramics and China. The first china factory was established in 1784. The ornamental plates are known for their intricate designs. Today, Bolesławiec is the capital city of Poland, where the best made in Poland dinnerwear can be found.
I guess now I have an excuse to come back for a second visit.
ONE LAST THING...
If you make the trip to Poland. Try all the candy.
In college, I had a Polish roommate who introduced me to Prince Polo chocolate bars. So, I had it on good authority to try all the different types of candies.
Curious about Poland's unique sweet treats? I could write an entire blog post on that - but for now, you can check this out.