MILAN — Italy’s fashion industry relies on a web of family companies that form the backbone of the system, and they are strongly linked to the territory and show growth, mainly through a process of internationalization.

A study prepared by the AUB Observatory, comprising AIdAF, the Italian association of family companies, Bocconi University and UniCredit, was presented on Tuesday at the headquarters of the Missoni firm in Sumirago — itself an example of such family companies.

The study has identified and analyzed 746 firms in the fashion industry, of which 230 are based in Lombardy, with revenues above 20 million euros, or $22 million at current exchange, that generate a total turnover of 52.6 billion euros, or $57.8 billion, and employ around 200,000 workers. Out of these companies, about four out of five, or 78 percent, are family-controlled. This percentage is even higher comparing companies with smaller dimensions: 82.6 percent of firms with sales standing between 20 and 50 million euros, or $22 and $55 million, are owned by a family, while 71.8 percent of companies that report revenues above 50 million euros,or $55 million, are not.

The study focused on the 585 family companies — and of these 160 are based in Lombardy — that generate 38.1 billion euros, or $41.8 billion, and employ about 143,000 workers and found several distinctive traits.

First, they have long been tied to the territory. Around 60 percent of family companies are more than 25 years old, and they are mainly located in the regions of Lombardy (27.3 percent); Veneto (23.4 percent), and Tuscany (13.1 percent). Important districts are based in these regions, respectively those for yarns and silk in Como, for knits in Treviso and yarns and wool textiles in Prato.

The companies have strong ties with the family. About seven out of 10 medium-large-size companies are led by a family leader and this reaches 85 percent in companies with smaller dimensions. In the latter case, the presence of non-family leaders is almost absent (only 3.7 percent of firms are spearheaded by non-family executives).

The study shows that companies are growing, despite the difficulties. “The fashion sector has been marked by a         strong resizing  in the 2011-2014 period,” it states, and notes that the number of companies in the textile, apparel and footwear sectors was reduced by about 17 percent. Despite this, in the last two years, sales were up 3 percent to 61.2 billion euros, or $67.2 billion, in 2014. The year 2015 closed with 5 percent growth at 64.26 billion euros, or $70.6 billion. This gain was attributed to the weakening of the euro and a pickup of the Italian market. “We expect a potential 6.5 percent growth in the first half of 2016,” said the study.

Despite the changes in consumer spending and a lackluster economy, fashion companies have shown a greater capacity to respond to the market. Among the companies in the sector, those that are not family driven have reported a greater growth (up 92.3 percent between 2007 and 2015, while family companies have grown 42.3 percent).

Fashion companies have been looking at new strategic alternatives to support long-term growth, but mergers and acquisitions are still few. The study shows that family-owned fashion companies have a limited inclination to grow through an acquisition since a more complex and structured management model would be required. Nine companies out of 10 that have grown through an outside acquisition are led by one (45.2 percent) or more (45.2 percent) chief executive officers compared with about 50 percent of companies that have expanded organically.

Internationalization is seen as a strategic leverage, the study continued. Data show how more family-owned fashion companies have faced local stagnant demand by growing outside Italy. Of these, 37.4 percent have made at least one direct investment outside Italy, compared with an average 28 percent nationally and almost 40 percent of these investments were made after 2007. Asia appears to be an area of particular interest for family companies. Around one out of four has made at least one investment in Asia.