MILAN — Mills that unfurled their spring 2018 fabrics at the three-day Milano Unica fair, which ended Friday, said they are banking on an uptick in the U.S. economy to boost sales.“Exports to the U.S. are still key for the success of Italian textile makers,” said Sistema Moda Italia president Claudio Marenzi.“If U.S. President Trump wages a trade war against China, that can be an opportunity to us,” Marenzi added, noting that Italian and European mills need to stand together amid turmoil in the European Union and geopolitical unrest.According to preliminary figures, Italian fabric sales for 2016 are expected to show a 0.6 percent drop to 7.86 billion euros, or $8.7 billion, compared with 2015 levels — due in part to a decline in U.S. exports, down 14.6 percent in the January to October 2016 period, compared to the same period in 2015, Milano Unica said. In the same period, sales to intra-EU partners such as Germany fell 3.7 percent in the same period, while exports to the U.K. inched up 1.5 percent. Export sales to South Korea surged 19.5 percent.In response to the economic downturn, Milano Unica introduced its new B2B platform at the event called MU365. The project is aimed at expanding the sector’s global reach and is being developed in partnership with New York-based firm Sundar.“In order to face the global climate, Milano Unica is hoping to reach a new customer who isn’t just located in New York or L.A. We want to reach different people, like start-up companies who would benefit from traditional European suppliers like us that are developing different way to do business,” said Milano Unica president Ercole Botto Poala.Sundar said it has developed tools that will allow visitors to customize their experience by connecting with suppliers to match their needs and requirements in real time. In addition, they will have access to data, profiles analytics, all in a digital infrastructure that is secure and password-protected.Botto Poala, who is also ceo of Biella-based wool maker Reda 1865, said the time has come for Italy’s small and medium-sized family-run companies to assert themselves throughout multifunctional channels.Across the board, macro themes like the euro-dollar parity, the future of the European Union, raw material prices and the U.S. economy were main topics among fabric makers. Many are expected to have raised the prices of their spring 2018 catalogues on an average of 2 to 5 percent compared to last season, as the euro nears parity with the dollar and prices of raw wool spiked in the first month of the year, Botto Poala noted.Economists expect the euro to hit parity with the dollar since the Federal Reserve is expected to hike interest rates in 2017.According to ISTAT, Italy’s statistics office, the international outlook for Italian companies overall continues to be defined by the solid growth of the U.S. economy, the decline in international trade and the rise in oil prices.“If President Trump succeeds in cutting taxes for the middle and upper classes, we are confident that an uptick in U.S. consumer consumption will help boost sales in 2017,” said Vitale Barberis Canonico ceo Alessandro Barberis Canonico.The Biella-based luxury wool fabric maker saw the price of raw wool rise 20 percent in the last month compared to the end of November, as the Australian dollar rose.Upscale fabric mill Larusmiani said it books about 20 percent of its sales in the U.S., after Italy, France, Spain and the U.K.“There is a big opportunity in the U.S. at this point and we expect the market to rebound as consumption rises and the U.S.-based brands enjoy increased spending power in Europe,” said Larusmiani ceo Guglielmo Miani, who noted that the company is placing its bets in its new “Art Denim” line of fabrics that include high-performance silk, cashmere and linen stretch materials that look like denim.“There are positive signs worldwide that our denim will be a main driver,” Miani said.Trans-seasonal materials and innovations stood out at leading stands like Tollegno 1900 and Loro Piana.Loro Piana launched a new PFC-free version of its water-repellent treatment Rain System, which can be applied to all Loro Piana Fabrics. The components of Rain System are derived from renewable sources of plant origin.“The market is in constant evolution and is moving fast. Trans-seasonal fabrics are a must now a days. More and more consumers are turning to casual chic fabrics, that are natural, comfortable but eye-catching and elegant at the same time,” said Pal Zileri designer Mauro Ravizza Krieger.Tollegno 1900 showcased silk-cashmere-wool blended fabrics for formalwear and expand its fashion-forward 3-D, bi-stretch and Rainmaker lines.Tollegno’s ceo Lincoln Germanetti said he also noted a spike in raw wool prices at the start of the year, with the rise in the price superfine wool outpacing that of ordinary fine wool.In terms of product, the Italian textile sector’s cash cow is still the wool industry. Milano Unica said Italian finished wool represents 40.5 percent of the entire supply chain, while cotton represents 20.2 percent, knits 17.9 percent and silk 17.4 with linen at 3.9 percent. Exports of linen fabrics outperformed, as the market turns toward more eco-conscious materials that are completely biodegradable and natural.At the fair, which unfolded at Milan's expansive Rho Fiera grounds, trends mirrored the consumer’s desire for escapism. Milano Unica’s art director Stefano Fadda turned to the exuberant colors and motifs of Egypt, Sorrento, Ibiza and the majestic city of Tehran to illustrate what will inspire designers for the spring summer 2018 season. Byzantine-like lace and macramé from artisan firms like Ricamificio Gimar and Ricamificio Braga stood out.Mills focused on innovation, sustainability and blends. Silk-maker Canepa Group showcased their latest collection, which was the fruit of an agreement signed with Candiani Denim, the biggest producer of denim in Italy, for the licensed use of the international SavetheWater-Kitotex patent. The patented product uses chitosan, a natural, non-toxic, biocompatible and biodegradable substance obtained from chitin found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans.In the same vein, sustainable fabric specialist Gruppo Cinque expanded its lines of cellulose-based fabrics like Cupro, as well as sustainable cotton and linen.“We can only have sustainable fabrics if they are fashionable and they look good. That’s what we keep striving for,”said Gruppo Cinque cofounder Lorella Paulotto.The fair welcomed visitors from more than 5,900 companies, which was in line with the February 2016 edition.Overall, 427 exhibitors participated. About 128 of those mills were foreign, up from only 71 last February. The fair also saw the return of the Japan and Korea Observatory, a consortium of a select number of leading businesses.The fair closed with the "Back to School" project, which welcomed British designer Paul Smith, who spoke to about 1,000 fashion school students. Smith, who said he often uses Italian fabrics in his vibrant collections, spoke to the crowd about distinguishing one’s self in an increasingly competitive market."In the textile industry, we have a saturation problem," Smith said, addressing the creativity that drives the textile and fashion markets. "There is no need for more creatives. It's really important to understand how important a point of view is."
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