By  on September 27, 2011

MILAN — Mill executives at Milano Unica said they are seeing a moderate upswing as the textile sector stabilizes and adapts to the challenges of a historic inflation in raw material prices.

The three-day fair that closed Sept. 15 at Fieramilanocity presented Italian and European fabric collections for the fall-winter 2012-13 season. Attendance was up 2 percent from the September 2010 edition, climbing to 21,400. The number of exhibitors increased by 11 to 483. Italian attendance dropped 5 percent but the number of foreign visitors was up 15 percent, with notable gains from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Russia, India, the U.K., France and Spain.

Pier Luigi Loro Piana, president of Milano Unica and Ideabiella, who will be succeeded by Silvio Albini, president of Gruppo Albini, revealed a new strategy to foster sustained demand from China through two 2012 China-based editions of Milano Unica — Beijing in March and Shanghai in October.

The Milan fair’s headline event on opening night was the On Stage fashion show. Produced in collaboration with Woolmark, it showcased the latest collections of 10 international up-and-coming designers. The outdoor runway was floating on the water of Milan’s Naviglio Grande canal and was attended by about 5,000 people.

“The thing that’s most important about On Stage is to put the new, young designers in contact with our textile firms,” said Loro Piana. “It’s a way that the emerging stylists can learn immediately about the culture of the textile industry, which is intricate.”

The textiles sector is acclimating to soaring raw material prices for wool, cashmere, silk and mohair. Sales for the first half rose 3.2 percent, according to Sistema Moda Italia, on the strength of exports to Asia.

“Wool prices have doubled in the last 12 months in U.S. dollar terms,” said Stuart McCullough, chief executive officer of Woolmark. “We’ve never seen anything like that. It’s turned into a macro headwind, but the Australian wool industry has defied all hurdles and barriers. The increase in wool prices hasn’t affected demand and consumption; rather, it has been to the advantage of the top players of the wool supply chain.”

Woolmark, the branding and licensing arm of Australian Wool Innovation, launched an initiative with Giorgio Armani called Wool’s Luxurious Touch, created by L’Uomo Vogue and Condé Nast Italy. The aim is to demystify merino wool through a new campaign that will feature Armani’s wool pieces from his fall-winter 2011-12 campaign.

In response to the volatile market, textile retailers and manufacturers can no longer absorb the costs and are forced to raise prices.

“The market’s gone through a difficult period, also for the weavers in Italy,” said Andrew David Knight, managing sales and design director at John Cavendish Ltd., who was at the fair’s Ideabiella area. “Regarding wool prices, it’s not easy. Fortunately the business is there. We absorbed as much as we could for 12 months and resisted it, but this season we had to raise prices. We might see a little price dip and we’ll decrease our prices accordingly.”

Based in West Yorkshire, England, the company’s been showing classic, made-in-England men’s wear at Milano Unica for six years with a small offering to the women’s market. John Cavendish relies heavily on exports.

“For a couple of decades, the made-in-England for the U.K. market became old fashioned and expensive, so most of the market is exported, mainly to Japan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong,” Knight said. “We have a good market in Europe, mainly in France and Italy.”

Exports are also key for many Italian firms looking to buck a stagnant home market. The Sistema Moda Italia noted that textiles sales in the key markets outside Europe are rising. Exports to Hong Kong rose 12 percent and 32.4 percent in China. Sixty percent of Italian exports to Asia is via wool fabrics.

“We export about 80 percent of our production and we try to grow exports every year plus 15 or 20 percent,” said Maurizio Barbero, marketing director of Biella-based Lanificio di Tollegno. “We’re growing in Russia, Turkey and China.”

The firm buys raw materials in Australia and New Zealand and has raised prices due to the rise in raw wool costs.

“Some customers don’t accept an increase of prices, especially if the increase is large, so we must find a solution with each customer,” said Barbero.

After recent reshuffling, Biella-based mill Botto Fila is now owned 100 percent by chief executive Alberto Bertoni, who has overhauled the once-ailing company and brought it back into the black. With 2011 sales predicted at 25 million euros, or about $34 million at current exchange, results for the first semester were up.

“More than 70 percent of our sales are abroad — the main area is Asia: China, Japan and South Korea,” said Bertoni.

At Lanificio di Tollegno, classic suitings and jacketings were offered in traditional, rich materials with special touches.

“We’ve added new technologies that are all about lightness and we want to give a modern look to the fabric,” said product manager Massimo Zambon.

Modern designs in fabrics such as stripes and Welsh plaids were popular for younger customers, including a wool jacket that was stamped in a way that created a vintage leather effect.

Botto Fila also showed classics with a twist, either through lightness, texturing or a combination of both.

“In the top range of textiles, the concept is to give consumers something that’s not just another navy or gray suit and to give them a reason to buy something different that’s not a huge departure from the classics,” said Bertoni. “We’re moving in the direction to change the face of the fabrics, not just the color, which is the face of the suit, but towards 3-D of the fabric’s surface.”

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