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Pushing Quality Amid Price Pressure at Pitti Filati

European spinners are drawing confidence about their prospects this year from renewed interest in top-range yarns, despite continued pressure from...

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MILAN — European spinners are drawing confidence about their prospects this year from renewed interest in top-range yarns, despite continued pressure from unfavorable exchange rates.

Ahead of unveiling spring and summer 2009 collections at the Pitti Filati yarn fair that opens its three-day run at the Fortezza da Basso fairgrounds in Florence on Jan. 30, many high-end yarn executives said while price remained a sticking point for clients, they were more inclined to pay a higher premium for quality, particularly in Europe.

“People are realizing that ‘almost as good’ isn’t good enough, particularly for those trying to present themselves as luxury, better-quality brands,” said James McArdle, managing director of Scottish spinner Todd & Duncan.

Many said 2007 was a challenging year, citing the weakness of the U.S. dollar, climate change, rising wool prices and competition from emerging markets, but were satisfied, overall, with marginal improvements on 2006. Over the last 12 months, clients who previously strayed to cheaper manufacturers were returning because of concerns over quality or delivery, and in the face of a crowded marketplace, customers were looking to specialists for differentiation.

“In this moment of mass product standardization, there is the necessity to look for a truly special product that may have some particular characteristics,” said Lola Coppini, chief executive officer of Lineapiu. “It has to be almost unique.”

Speed, efficiency and flexibility were increasingly important for the market, executives said, pointing to a big opportunity for spinners providing a reliable stock service.

“Whoever works hard on quality and service will be rewarded,” said Alfredo Botto Poala, president and ceo of Zegna Baruffa.

Yarn manufacturers were cautious because of the economic malaise in the U.S., but said they stood by their investments in the region and continued to see opportunity there.

“Despite the fact that we export 65 to 70 percent of our materials and despite…a huge exposure of yarns in the dollar zone, I am optimistic,” said Luciano Bandi, yarn division director for Loro Piana.

In their collections, many companies selected ultrafine counts for spring-summer, responding to a trend for something luxurious and warming but not necessarily heavy in weight.

“The lightness and, therefore, the interseasonality of the product is important, particularly considering the climate lately,” said Cristiana Cariaggi, ceo of Cariaggi.

Yarns also tended to be more eco-friendly and organic than previous seasons, and included blends with natural fibers like wood and bamboo, and those derived from milk.

“[The trend is for] natural fibers and eco-sustainable production that doesn’t pollute and demands the minimal possible use of energy and water,” Bandi said.

Overall, colors were gentle, with pastels, beiges, earth and skin tones dominating collections. Todd & Duncan will showcase its new spring-summer Limelight Collection at Pitti, a collective palette of 20 freshly colored fine-gauge cashmere yarns. The company will also show a new range of cashmere blends with linen and silk. The mill will introduce three cashmere and linen lines, dubbed Gaia, Sonora and Savannah, that McArdle said represent “three different levels of luxury.”

Todd & Duncan has added innovation to its highest-quality wool, incorporating Lycra spandex and Lurex into it. Without disclosing figures, McArdle added that Todd & Duncan’s sales of ultrafine counts were growing and that they were on top of sales of the company’s standard product.

“We’re not seeing a cannibalization as such or substitution effect,” he said. “We’re seeing an incremental gain.”

Cariaggi also focused on lighter counts.

“The general bias of the new collection is toward ever-more-subtle yarns and well-being, paying attention to health and natural colors,” Cariaggi said.

The central Italy company has introduced a fine-carded yarn of 100 percent cashmere in a stock service of 75 colors and a range of silk linen yarns in 30 neutral tones. Its collection also features a new, summery 100 percent vegetable product made from bamboo and ramie fibers, and a selection of yarns using only 100 percent natural vegetable pigments in 15 colors, including seven tones from pomegranate to smoke. Cariaggi tracks the origins of all its products “from fiber to yarn” and has recently obtained environmental certification, the company said.

“The emerging markets today often do not pay much attention to the environment question, but this is important to us and to the market,” Cariaggi said.

Cariaggi’s sales were up 3 percent in 2007 to 65 million euros, or $89.1 million at average exchange rates for the period. It has set a target of 75 million euros, or $110 million at current exchange, for 2008.

“In our band, therefore in the band with our types of product and with our quality and service, there is still space,” Cariaggi said.

Cashmere specialist Loro Piana has added wood fiber and fiber derived from milk for the season, offering blends with linen, cotton or silk to obtain “alternative products,” Bandi said.

The collection’s color palette reflects the use of these natural materials.

“We have gone for completely revamped nuances of pastel and shades of beige that replace the gray tones of previous seasons,” Bandi said.

Zegna Baruffa will present its limited edition ultrafine wool yarn at Pitti that it is pitching as an alternative to cashmere. The Australian merino product is only 13.75 microns, is soft to the touch and has a low pilling factor, the company said. Zegna Baruffa will also offer a handful of new styles, in linen, cotton, wool and viscose linen, and two new fine-gauge cashmere yarns in carded and combed versions.

Filpucci continues to focus on glossy viscose yarns in both pure and blended forms for “a fluid, gallant look,” according to company owner Federico Gualtieri. For summer in particular, Gualtieri expected the viscose silk blend to be popular. Other yarns for the season include an organic cotton and organic linen, both with 100 percent natural dyes. Filpucci colors gravitate toward skin tones. Gualtieri forecasted sales growth of 15 percent worldwide and 10 percent in the U.S. compared with 2007.

Lineapiu also concentrated on fine-gauge viscose and natural fibers, including cotton and linen.

“These last two fibers, contrary to their nature, have been made sophisticated,” Coppini said. “So, we’re talking about natural fibers with touches of nobility.”

Lineapiu diversifies its product offering into three tiers in order to better serve the market, Coppini said. Apart from its high-end signature range, it also offers a midmarket line called FeelClass, and Topline, which “is produced in China and is sold only to those who produce in China.”

“We export Lineapiu and FeelClass to China, but we also offer a line at Chinese prices,” Coppini said. “It has all the advantages of a line produced there, but clearly it’s a totally different product from the other lines.”

Coppini said FeelClass had suffered recently, but anticipated sales growth for Topline this year.

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