By  on July 14, 2009

FLORENCE — Mergers and acquisitions were Topic A during the Pitti Filati yarn fair, as mills seek partners to help them survive the global recession.

The yarn trade show, which ended a four-day run July 9 at Fortezza da Bazzo fairgrounds here, attracted 118 exhibitors showing fall yarn collections. International visitor numbers were down 10 percent and the total number of visitors came in at 4,900, compared with 5,500 last year.

Several of Europe’s heavyweight spinners elaborated on recent merger and acquisition deals. Scotland-based spinner Todd & Duncan said at a news conference that it will be fortified by its 6 million pound, or $9.7 million at current exchange, sale to Chinese cashmere firm Ningxia Zhongyin Cashmere Co. The company has supplied cashmere fiber to Todd & Duncan for five years.

“This will give us the financial strength to weather the recession storm and come out of it strong,” said James McArdle, managing director of Todd & Duncan.

Zegna Baruffa, one of Italy’s biggest spinners, chose Pitti Filati to announce it joined forces with Filatura di Chiavazza, a small Biella-based mill specializing in carded fine woolen yarns. Alfredo Botto Poala, president of Zegna Baruffa, said the company’s factories would be integrated and yarn brands would continue to be marketed.

“It’s a complementary, cohesive fit,” said Botto Poala. “Though Filatura di Chiavazza doesn’t have much international distribution, our aim is to raise its profile in the 50 countries we export.”

Filatura di Chiavazza’s sales for the past 15 months were $13.9 million, or 10 million euros, which Zegna Baruffa expects to double within a year. The firm’s 91 employees will be folded into Zegna Baruffa’s workforce of 780.

Botto Poala said he anticipates other mergers within the Italian spinning industry to deal with pressure from cheaper yarn manufacturers outside Europe, as well as the economic downturn.

“This pathway is the best way to go, it’s the only way to keep production on our territory, to keep the high quality and service we pride ourselves on,” Botto Poala said.

Other spinners said the recession would lead to a 10 percent drop in 2009 sales compared with the previous year.

“Orders have dropped dramatically and they continue to get smaller,” said Silvio Botto Poala, chief executive officer of Botto Poala. “We need to keep our heads down, concentrate on quality, service and newness until the future is more stable.”

The firm beefed up its in-stock service offer to counter last-minute orders, which spiked in recent months, Botto Poala said. It also showed new, cheaper alternatives to cashmere yarns, like Tasman, spun from superfine merino, and Cashgeel, a merino yarn with 10 percent cashmere.

At Lineapiù, president Giuliano Coppini stressed that Italian spinners had to “work on the details” to continually show their product was superior to cheaper, basic yarns from outside of Europe.

“We must push our new ideas all the time. It’s the only way to defend Made In Italy,” he said.

Coppini’s mill showcased lower-priced cashmere substitutes. Baby camel was presented in pure natural beige shades or blended with wool using a technique that spins the fibers around a hollow center to give an airy, fuzzy hand. Baby alpaca comes in an ultrafine carded yarn.

“We are searching to do the finest yarns that have the same softness and luxury feel of cashmere but are lesser known and less expensive,” said Lola Coppini, chief executive officer of Lineapiù.

Lanificio dell’Olivo’s export sales for the first six months of 2009 were robust, pushed mainly by U.S. clients such as J. Crew, said Chiara Taddeucci, product manager for the 60-year-old Tuscan spinner.

“It’s important to build a solid relationship with a client,” Taddeucci said. “We are working like a made-to-measure service with our top clients and it produces terrific results.”

Loro Piana also noticed an uptick in U.S. customers searching for high quality cashmere-blend yarns.

“We have picked up three new American clients for fall with sizeable orders,” said Luciano Bandi, yarn division director for Loro Piana. “They specifically want high-end yarns.”

Yarn trends struck a contrast. Using air-spun technology, many mills produced lighter-weight, supersoft, chunky or fine gauges in merino wool blended with silk, alpaca and mohair.

Lanificio dell’Olivo showed a lofty yarn called “not-spun yarn.” Spun without a center thread, the result is a featherweight, supersoft yarn with little pilling. The firm used the new spinning technology for combining baby alpaca and merino wool in a springy, cozy yarn.

J. Jill designer Deepika Mehra said she was pleased with new yarns she had seen.

“Spinners are doing more coarser, interesting textures on both chunky and extremely fine gauges,” Mehra said. “I also like the new mixes of merino and silk that have been vintage washed for a watered down look that is a real trend.”

Subtle melanges, in faded, hazy hues of plum, gray and green were popular. Some companies achieved that look with a stonewash finish, like Loro Piana’s cashmere, linen and cotton blend and cashmere and silk blend yarns washed to fade color delicately to a smoky effect.

Lineapiù showed gossamer fine mohair that is gauzy when knitted, and chenille with Lurex for a velvet hand and glossy look.

Tweed chiné in soft lama and alpaca combinations came in shades of moody blues and grays at Filpucci, and the company also showed a shaggy mohair yarn it dubbed “Wolf” that when knitted, resembled long fur.

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