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Italian Textile Makers Step Up Innovation

Yarn and fabric firms turn to value-added products for growth.

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MILAN — The European financial crisis may have hit the Italian textile industry’s bottom line, but it hasn’t stopped its creative, innovative impulse.

According to forecasts by Italian fashion and textile consortium SMI Sistema Moda Italia, the Italian fashion and textile industry’s revenues are expected to drop 4.4 percent in 2012 to 50.45 billion euros, or $66.74 billion at current exchange rate. But Italy’s yarn manufacturers continue to invest in research to boost their businesses and be competitive on the international scene.

Innovation and research are at the core of Filatura di Saluzzo, which spent the last five years developing its revolutionary Newlife, a technologically advanced platform able to offer a wide range of sophisticated and high-tech recycled polyester yarns made from plastic bottles.

“This project started from an intuition. At that time, I realized that consumers were changing and they were more informed and sensible to ecological problems,” said Filatura di Saluzzo chief executive officer Stefano Cochis. “Italy still guarantees excellent, high-quality production, but it also has to pay more attention to sustainability, which cannot be ignored anymore. National authorities should push companies to follow European regulations.”

In order to “create products that would be sustainable yet beautiful and elegant,” Cochis said Filatura di Saluzzo decided to create its own, directly controlled supply chain, which includes a company collecting plastic bottles in northern Italy and another converting the plastic into 100 percent recycled polyester through a mechanical process. At the end, Filatura di Saluzzo transforms the polymers into yarns that are UV resistant, antibacterial and quick drying, and that can be used for several applications, from fashion and home textiles to automotive and workwear.

The newest yarn developed by Filatura di Saluzzo, which counts Marks & Spencer, Eileen Fisher and Decathlon among its main clients, is the Newlife Light, which, being extremely thin, is used to produce ultralightweight microfiber fabrics for outerwear and innerwear.

Newlife currently accounts for 15 to 20 percent of the company’s production, but “our goal is to bring it to 70 to 80 percent by 2015,” he said.

According to Cochis, France is the biggest market for Newlife, followed by Turkey and Germany.

“In Italy, the Prato and Como textile districts are making great progress and they are accelerating their businesses in developing innovative, sustainable fabrics,” he said, adding that Newlife has been well-received in the U.S., as well.

As Cochis highlighted, companies based in the Prato area of Tuscany are finding new ways to expand their product ranges and be more competitive on the global market.

The city’s chamber of commerce has created “Cardato regenerated CO2 neutral,” an initiative involving 31 local textile firms, including New Mill, Fil-3 and Tre G., and producing zero-emission products with recycled wool used by Diesel for its green line and by Italy’s mass-market retailer Coop.

“Prato has a long tradition in recycling wool, but for many years these products have been seen as second tier,” said Silvia Gambi, head of the project. “Our goal was to give a new life to a practice which is part of our history, updating it and making it appealing for the market.”

The companies receiving the certification from the Prato chamber of commerce use clothes and fabric cuttings, bought especially in Eastern Europe, the U.S. and Canada, that are dry-cleaned with hydrochloric acid and then beaten to eliminate the carbonized particles. After this, the rags are mechanically torn and washed to obtain new, usable fibers. Through the process, textile companies can obtain a wide range of carded products in cashmere, angora, alpaca, mohair and other blends of wool with silk and viscose.

In addition, in order to have minimal environmental impact, factories that give off carbon dioxide must buy the same quantity of credits compensating for their emission. These credits are used to cover the costs to replant trees and forests and to support green projects.

Zegna Baruffa Lane Borgosesia, one of Italy’s largest exporters of yarn for knitwear, is also focusing on research and innovation.

As part of its fall collection, the Biella-based company presented the Brand New Wool. Available in two versions — Super 120s and the Merinos Extrafine — it’s highly hygroscopic, enabling knitted garments, which dry quickly and are easy to iron, to absorb and gradually release humidity, keeping the skin fresh at the same time.

In addition, the company offers a special service, allowing clients to order all of its yarns in a waterproof version.

Como-based Tessitura Taiana Virgilio textile company has launched Allure, a woven fabric made with Emana, which is a polyamide “intelligent” yarn featuring a patented additive transmitting Far Infrared emissions.

According to Taiana, the fabric, when it interacts with the skin, improves the blood’s microcirculation up to 90 percent, bringing relevant medical and aesthetic benefits, including an increase in skin elasticity and the reduction of signs of cellulite. In addition, Allure, which has been specifically designed for body-shaping underwear, guarantees with its thin structure an immediate slimming effect.

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