By  on November 23, 2005

Italian fairs move forward by working together.

MILAN — Unity at last.

In November, Prato Expo announced that it will join Italy's new unified textile supershow, Milan Unica, a decision that ends years of wrangling and in-fighting among various textile trade organizations over how to create a formidable competitor to Paris' Première Vision show.

Initially, Prato Expo's organizers didn't want to move to Milan, but last season's drop in attendance prompted a change of heart. Prato Expo's dilemma is endemic to the Italian trade show landscape: Fairs are constantly competing for buyers' time and travel budgets amid the crippling effects of a strong euro-to-dollar exchange rate and the emergence of mighty China.

Some fairs, such as footwear fair Fashion Shoe, have shut down all together. But Unica is a clear example of how Italian fairs can survive and even boost their might through collaboration. Last season, textile shows Ideabiella, Ideacomo, Shirt Avenue and ModaIn came together for the first edition of Unica. Now, with the addition of Prato Expo, five shows will participate in the second Unica, which runs Feb. 14-17 at the new Milan fairgrounds in the suburban area of Rho-Pero.

"[The Prato Expo move] completes the project, which allows a client in four days to get a clear understanding of what's on offer from Italy's textile companies and European manufacturers," said Pier Luigi Loro Piana, president of Ideabiella and a key Unica organizer.

Loro Piana estimated that Prato Expo's participation in the event would boost the number of exhibitors by about 16 percent, or 100 companies, from the 609 that participated in Unica's first edition. He said the number of visitors should grow by at least 10 percent from the 27,500 registered last time.

"Milano Unica is a new event so it hasn't fully realized its potential. It still has growth opportunities and the potential to acquire new market share," he said.

Overall, Unica and other fair organizers are optimistic that buyers will flock to Italy for the best fabrics, apparel, accessories and leather hides.

"There's an air of expectation. We have definitely not emerged from a difficult economic period, but we're definitely hoping to come out of it soon," said Mauro Muzzolon, director general of AIMPES, the leather accessories manufacturing group that organizes trade fair Mipel. Like others, he said that growing interest from buyers in new markets such as Russia can help compensate for "static" U.S. and European markets.

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