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MILAN — Kids’ fashion means big business for European companies — especially when they sell to foreigners.

This story first appeared in the June 18, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As they gear up for the 75th edition of Pitti Bimbo, the three-day children’s fair in Florence that kicks off June 28, industry executives highlighted the growing importance of planting roots abroad.

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente, said the children’s sector is “showing positive signs” in Italy and tourism has been an important business-driver for major international brands. “It’s true for children’s wear, but it’s also true across all categories,” she said.


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“Europe remains a reference point for luxury shopping,” said Suzanne Basini, chief executive officer of Italian children’s brand I Pinco Pallino. “And the areas with the highest number of tourists with high purchasing power benefit from the passage of new international customers, such as the Brazilians and Chinese.”

Raffaello Napoleone, ceo of Pitti Immagine, the show’s producer, agreed: “Some cities such as Milan, Venice and Florence are losing national customers, but well-established brands are pulling through thanks to tourism,” he said. “There are Brazilians, Russians and Chinese who travel a lot, and in Brazil the kids’ market is very dynamic.”

Tourism aside, many fashion companies are investing heavily in emerging foreign markets to boost business. Gianni Castiglioni, ceo of Marni, cited significant growth in Russia, Asia and the Middle East, and noted that, in the future, the company “would like to develop South America, especially Brazil.”

Manel Adell, ceo of Spanish brand Desigual, which has exhibited at Pitti for five years, said the company is expanding the Middle East and Asia, with notable success in Japan.

“Our main growth region is the UAE, particularly Dubai, and Kuwait, where markets grow season by season and we’re planning to open more stores soon,” he said. “However, our long-established markets in Europe are still the biggest and we are also expanding there. The economic situation has implied, naturally, that sales have leveled off from last season, but there are no significant declines in turnover to note.”

Adell added that Europe’s “tough economic climate” has led the company to double its efforts in closing sales, and to broaden its range of styles and product categories — such as adding a swimwear line and an upcoming baby collection — to attract new customers.

At Moschino, 60 percent of its children’s business is outside Italy, and top markets include the Middle East — with 45 percent of total exports — followed by Russia and other Eastern European countries (22 percent) and Western Europe (17 percent). China is among the fastest-growing regions for the company’s kids’ wear.

“We have achieved positive results in China, thanks to the collaboration with various multibrand stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Wenzhou, Hangzhou and Ningbo,” Moschino general director Alessandro Varisco noted, adding that, in 2012, sales of the company’s kids’ wear were up about 10 percent over 2011.

“We have very high expectations for Pitti,” Varisco added. “We’ve already set up a lot of appointments. For us, the fair is a valid tool not just to show our collections, but also to take orders.”

Alberto Piantoni, ceo of Missoni, said all markets are growing for Missoni Kids. The brand’s main markets are Europe — notably the U.K. and Italy — and the U.S., although Missoni Kids is also making its foray into China.

Basini of I Pinco Pallino said the company had been satisfied with Pitti Bimbo’s January edition and hoped to attract more international business — especially from the U.S. — in June. “We are going through a consolidation phase of our positioning that is a prelude to our entry in new markets,” she said.

Europe’s financial woes have also pressured manufacturers to step up their game. Altana, located in Treviso, Italy, specializes in the production of children’s wear, and its client roster includes Moschino, Moncler, Dondup and Pinko, among others. Barbara Donadon, Altana’s ceo, said the company is focused on providing clients with more and faster services, and is available on short notice to assist fashion companies during sales campaigns.

“We’re working on a software program that will allow clients to see what materials we have in stock, in case they need last-minute substitutions,” she said.

Sixty percent of Altana’s business is Italian, and the remaining 40 percent is split among other European countries, the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait) and Eastern Europe. “We are just starting to work in China,” Donadon noted.

Trendwise, Donadon said children’s wear is taking more cues from adult fashion collections, with numerous prints, varying thicknesses of materials and all manner of treatments. That means higher production costs, which, coupled with an increase in the price of raw materials, make it tempting to slap higher price tags on the final merchandise — a tough call, said Donadon, at a time when European customers are especially sensitive to prices.

Nearly 500 brands will be presenting collections at the fair, with about 192 (about 39 percent) from countries other than Italy. About 11,000 visitors are expected to attend the trade event, which will be held at Fortezza da Basso, 1 Viale Filippo Strozzi in Florence.

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