The scene at Mido 2019.

MILAN — As the Italian and international eyewear industry gears up for the upcoming digital-only edition of trade show Mido, which is scheduled for June 5 to 7, the sector is starting to see signs of recovery after a year that severely impacted exports and production.

“The impact of the pandemic on eyewear manufacturing has been immediate and violent; however, we registered a sinusoidal performance throughout 2020 with sharp drops especially during the first lockdown,” said Giovanni Vitaloni, president of Anfao, the Italian association that groups the country’s eyewear companies employing a total of around 18,000 people.

According to figures provided by the association on Wednesday, the Italian eyewear sector registered a 25.8 percent drop in exports in 2020 to 2.8 billion euros, impacted by sharp declines in the March-April period, when most international countries started enforcing lockdowns.

All regions saw a decline, with exports to Asia falling 33.8 percent, followed by the Americas, down 26 percent, and Europe, which declined 23 percent. Not even the two most relevant economies for the sector, the U.S. and China, managed to offset the industry’s decline as they were down 21.6 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively.

“We expect the market to start picking up in the second half of 2021, driven especially by the U.S. and China, although we will not return to pre-pandemic levels any time before 2022,” Vitaloni said.

Despite the havoc wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Italian eyewear industry has managed to maintain its position as Europe’s largest exporter of sunglasses and optical frames.

In the three months ended March 31, the sector’s performance was flat as international travel did not bounce back as needed; however, in April the global rollout of the vaccination campaign has had a positive impact on the domestic market and signs of recovery are tangible in China and the U.S.

Providing a forecast for 2021, Vitaloni said the eyewear industry is poised to grow 14.7 percent this year compared to 2020, but decrease 15 percent versus 2019.

While the upcoming edition of Mido will be a digital-only affair, organizers are trying their best to re-create online the interaction that exhibitors and buyers would usually experience at the Milano-Rho fairgrounds.

The platform will combine a marketplace for product discovery with a full schedule of webinars and talks, including one featuring well-known photographer Albert Watson.

The exhibitors’ section will be flanked by lounges and rooms, the former mirroring those at the fairgrounds and intended to foster casual conversations between industry operators, and the latter set up by eyewear companies to host private product presentations to small groups of buyers.

In order to maximize business opportunities, the platform will go live on May 28 and remain active until the end of the year.

“We were inspired by the challenge posed by many operators to look to the future by innovating, to create concrete opportunities and a business space to relaunch the sector,” said Vitaloni. “The business-to-business platform may become the global trading marketplace of the sector.”

Vitaloni also said that the trade show is set to resume its physical format next year from Feb. 12 to 14. In 2020 Mido was forced to call off its edition altogether due to the COVID-19 situation and bans imposed on physical trade shows.