MILAN Assopellettieri, Italy’s organization of leather goods manufacturers, released on Wednesday preliminary data showing the sector’s net exports rising to 4.1 billion euros in the first 10 months of 2018, up 8.6 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

The growth was driven mainly by exports, up 10.3 percent in the January to October period, reaching 6.76 billion euros. “Italy’s leather-goods sector is constantly exporting high-valued products — of course luxury brands make the difference,” noted Danny D’Alessandro, general director of Assopellettieri and chief executive officer and general manager of handbags and accessories trade show Mipel. The next edition of the fair will run Feb. 10 to 13 at the Milano-Rho fairgrounds.

D’Alessandro underscored that, despite positive results, which he expects to be confirmed by consolidated figures out in March, “small- and medium-sized enterprises, which represent the backbone of the sector, are still suffering.” Despite the double-digit growth in value, Italian leather goods exports registered a decline in quantities, down 5.7 percent.

“It’s hard not to express concern [for the future], however we went through tough periods in the past and still the leather-goods business has been growing year-over-year thanks to its unparalleled quality,” commented Riccardo Braccialini, president of Assopellettieri. Appointed to the role in 2015, Braccialini will pass the baton at the end of the year, reflecting the organization’s recently changed statute.

Along with Switzerland and France, both important logistics hubs for Italy’s leather goods, the U.S., Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan topped the list of importing countries. In particular, the U.S. showed a 5.7 percent increase in the first 10 months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. D’Alessandro expressed his confidence for the American market’s outlook despite being “a complex country, attracted by luxury brands, which translates into a difficult penetration for companies positioned on the lower segment.”

South Korea — which recorded a 19.3 percent uptick — is among the countries targeted by the renovated partnership between Assopellettieri and ICE, Italy’s trade agency, for the next edition of Mipel. Through the collaboration, Mipel will secure 37 top buyers from the country, as well as from Russia and Japan. Despite a 2.3 percent decrease, the latter is expected to return to growth because of the recent free-trade agreement with the country.

In terms of imports, China is still the highest-ranked country, although products coming from the country posted a 7.1 percent decrease in value and a 5.7 percent contraction in quantities, signaling a renewed focus on local production. Italy’s internal expenditure continues to be flat with a 1.1 percent drop in value.

“Over the past eight seasons we’ve been committed to delivering tangible results for Mipel and Assopellettieri. The organization has been busy banking on the quality of its exhibitors, cutting off those companies that didn’t reflect our values,” said Braccialini.

Focused on sustainability in its broader sense of environmentally conscious production, social corporate responsibility and work ethics, the 115th edition of Mipel will showcase 350 brands and is expected to attract around 12,000 visitors.

“Everybody is talking about sustainability nowadays, it’s kind of banal. Italian and European companies have a significant advantage on the topic because of the country’s legislation. No extra-European competitor can leverage a sustainability benchmark like ours,” Braccialini contended.

Along with established handbags and accessories brands, the fair will keep showing its support to young talents through the Scenario area. In addition, the Mipel Tailor Made project, now in its third season, will bring dedicated capsule collections designed by emerging designers and produced by Assopellettieri’s associates to the Coin department store in the center of Milan, for the first time.