MILAN — Speaking at Sistema Moda Italia’s tenth annual assembly on Tuesday, Claudio Marenzi, the fashion and textile trade association’s president, spoke of the sector’s “clear signs of recovery” after several difficult years mired in the country’s economic crisis.
In 2014, turnover for the Italian textile and fashion industries was up 2.7 percent over the previous year, surpassing 52 billion euros, or about $69.1 billion at average exchange. Growth was relatively even between the two sectors, with textiles up 2.5 percent and fashion up 2.8 percent. While Russia’s political troubles caused a dip in Italian exports, the extra-EU trade figures were still quite good, up 2.9 percent, and the intra-EU trade figures rose 4.6 percent.
“I am especially proud of the strong relationship of trust that we’ve built with the Ministry of Economic Development, and particularly with vice minister Carlo Calenda, whose goals and battles to defend Italian products — their quality, recognition and excellence — we share,” Marenzi said, referring to the hefty investments the Italian government has made to promote national goods, from fashion to footwear to ceramics.
He also revealed the creation of a new Sustainability, Research and Innovation Commission inside Sistema Moda Italia. Led by Andrea Crespi, the group is to establish industrywide guidelines for companies to take on sustainability “in a scientifically and industrially doable way, without damaging the Italian textile and fashion sector’s operations and competitiveness,” Marenzi noted, adding that this would help firms to meet growing consumer demand for ethical products and corporate transparency.
Among the assembly’s other speakers were Marco Fortis, an industrial economics professor at Milan’s Cattolica University, and Francesco Morace, a well-known sociologist and the founder of Future Concept Lab, a marketing and research institute.
Fortis, who noted that Italy’s gross domestic product, domestic employment and consumption figures were all improving, emphasized the need to “calibrate expectations” concerning long-term economic growth.
He also said, however, that EU leaders often ignore the strength of the Italian agricultural, manufacturing and tourism industries: his research, based on the most recently available figures from 2013 and 2014, shows that the northern Italian provinces of Biella, Varese, Como, Milan and Bergamo export more than 500 million euros annually in textiles alone, or about $664 million at average exchange, while the provinces of Milan, Reggio Emilia and Vicenza export more than 1 billion euros, or $1.32 billion at average exchange, in ready-to-wear.
Morace emphasized that today’s consumers are more interested in “excellent” products than in “luxury” items marketed for their exclusivity alone. Sustainable products fit into this new mindset, Morace said, because of their connection to quality of life.
During the closing roundtable, Marina Salamon, president of Altana, a children’s wear manufacturer whose clients include Moschino, Dondup and Pinko, discussed the need for Italian textile and fashion companies to step up their games in distribution and marketing. Visibility and reputation, she noted, “either go together, or they don’t work.”
Lisa Ferrarini, industrial association Confindustria’s vice president for Europe, had the audience nodding in agreement when she expressed frustration at the lack of progress in making product origin labels mandatory in the EU, following yet another legislative stall on May 28 in Brussels, in spite of Poland’s shift towards supporting the measure.
“I believe that the spirit of the EU was originally based on the idea of compromise,” she said, noting that unlike the U.S., China and many key European trade partners, the EU currently requires no labels of origin on products sold within its borders. “So I say, where is the reciprocity in this? Where is our competition with these countries?” she said.