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MILAN — Italian spinners face a turbulent year as they are pulled deeper into the economic storm.

This story first appeared in the January 20, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In the lead-up to yarn fair Pitti Filati, set for Florence’s Fortezza da Basso from Jan. 28 to 30, executives said the current financial crisis differed from the one experienced after global quotas were lifted in 2001. Cheaper production methods available in China and Asia resulted in an influx of goods from the region and, by 2002, forced the closure of many Italian yarn mills. Mill executives said the latest upheaval has been broader in nature.

“It’s a general crisis. It’s not yarn-sector specific, but things will get worse this year,” said Stefano Borsini, president of Igea.

Giacomo Festa Bianchet, chief executive officer of Loro Festa, said, “It’s more of a bank and credit problem than market and order issue.”

Borsini said the textile and yarn area of Prato in the Tuscany region had already seen several small-scale spinners forced into liquidation at the end of last year.

“Outsourcers like the little dyeing and finishing plants are really suffering because there’s hardly any new orders being processed by their clients, the larger-size spinners,” Borsini added.

Igea’s sales in 2008 dropped 8 percent compared to 2007, and Borsini forecast a repeat in 2009.

Despite the gloomy outlook, executives are confident about their capacity to weather the year ahead.

“Italian spinning is a fundamental cog in the world’s fashion industry,” said Elena Salvaneschi, marketing manager of Iafil. “It’s part of a chain of manufacturing which is integral to the system.”

Though Iafil’s 2008 sales figure hasn’t been completed, Salvaneschi acknowledged November and December had been particularly weak and anticipated decline in turnover of as much as 5 percent for the year.

As a result of the shaky retail picture, many mills downsized their spring-summer 2010 yarn collections or stuck to what they considered classic, safe yarns.

“That’s what we are hearing from our clients: They want security that the yarn won’t give any problems in the product process,” Salvaneschi said.

Iafil spun a pair of highly twisted cotton yarns together for a dry, crepe hand and also blended a long cotton fiber with 5 percent cashmere for a more sophisticated summery yarn.

Cashmere is a popular blending yarn staple for many spring-summer 2010 yarn collections.

“Cashmere will continue, despite the crisis,” said Luciano Bandi, yarn division director for Loro Piana. “In moments of difficulty, there is search for the certainty and comfort of this natural fiber.”

Loro Piana looked to renew cashmere with innovative, subtle blends with milk protein fiber, linen and cotton to give diverse performance levels and an elegant but edgy look.

Cariaggi, a cashmere specialist spinner that’s recorded consistent sales increases for several years, registered one percent growth in 2008. Cariaggi will show Jaipur, a 70 percent cashmere and 30 percent silk blend, as well as a pure ultrafine silk yarn in beige, champagne, jade and blue tones.

Ceo Piergiorgio Cariaggi said 2009 will be a crucial year, “but we are not going to lower our prices on our product, because the quality remains the same.”

In an effort to broaden their price range, some mills reduced the percentage of cashmere in a blend.

“In the past, when clients did sweaters with 100 percent cashmere, maybe now they will do 80 percent,” said Festa Bianchet. “But no matter what, you can’t downgrade the quality or the service. The final consumer is not stupid. If he has bought a 100 percent merino sweater in the past, he is not going to buy a merino-acrylic blend sweater next year.”

Loro Festa has a 15 percent cashmere, 85 percent silk yarn that “has an incredible cashmere hand feel for a much cheaper price than a pure cashmere yarn,” as well as a sporty 30 percent linen, 70 percent silk blend. Rounding out the offer are three pure silk yarns, one very fine, another mélange and one spun with a gossamer thread of shiny silver or gold lamé. Festa Bianchet said all of the silk yarns, in 54 solid and 24 mélange colors, were already available in stock service.

Zegna Baruffa will also showcase a strictly natural fiber-based collection.

“We don’t have the possibility to do basic yarns anymore,” said Paolo Todisco, director general of Zegna Baruffa. “We are striving for more noble, finer yarns every season.”

Yarns developed for spring-summer 2010 include extrafine wools with a similar hand to cashmere. Pure cotton and linen yarns are also spun in fine counts with a crepe hand.

Igea expanded its organic collection with a delicate organic cotton yarn for knitting on a superfine gauge, as well as a contrasting, chunkier yarn dyed in pastel tones without harsh chemicals. Meanwhile, its soft, fluffy viscose yarns come in hues of pale gray, mint green and China blue.

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