WWD.com/globe-news/intimates-activewear/italian-hosiery-firms-look-to-untapped-markets-7393642/

Necessity might be the mother of invention, but it has offspring in the inventive strategic marketing department, too.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Though hosiery companies in the northern Italian hamlet of Castel Goffredo continue to struggle, and the outlook for 2014 isn’t rosy, many firms are now working together in new ways to promote Italian products in untapped markets.

“Let’s say that all the elements that have been challenging in the past are still around,” said Davide Bonassi, secretary general for A.Di.Ci, the association of hosiery and intimates companies, referring to high energy and labor costs, foreign competition, products with fake “Made in Italy” labels and the credit crunch, among other issues. High-end hosiery producers or those focused on sporty intimates are the ones staying competitive, according to A.Di.Ci.

The roughly 400 hosiery firms in the Castel Goffredo region generated a collective $1.6 billion in sales last year, off 10.2 percent from the prior year in domestic volume, and 20 percent in export sales. To help reverse that trend, companies have initiated marketing campaigns targeted at specific regions.

In 2013, Bonassi traveled to Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli buyers on behalf of six different Italian hosiery labels. “We wanted to try this out as a strategy, because it obviously costs much less to send one person than six people. So six Italian companies got together and developed specific product proposals for the occasion,” Bonassi said, adding that: “Israel is, relatively speaking, a small market, but we had a good response and feel this approach is promising.”

A.Di.Ci member companies plan to collaborate on similar sales pitches in the future, taking aim at the Middle East, Russia and the U.S., not just in national capitals, but also smaller metropolitan areas where they see potential. “Russia is not just Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and the U.S. is not just New York and Los Angeles,” Bonassi said. “In commercial terms, there’s a whole world out there to conquer.”

This year, A.Di.Ci will also meld with Noemi Trust, another organization that supports small textile businesses in the Lombard provinces of Mantua, Brescia and Cremona. This fusion, the groups say, “shows that today more than ever before it’s necessary to collaborate as much as possible.…The goal is to unite the objectives and forces of all those who have the conservation and growth of our excellent production in this territory at heart.” By banding together and sharing their collective know-how, the organizations aim to boost innovation.

A new A.Di.Ci and Noemi Trust research and development lab will also open its doors, allowing member companies to experiment on products and collaborate with students of design from Milan’s Polytechnic Institute.