MILAN — Italian companies must focus on exports to overcome the declining domestic demand and the general crisis in the euro zone.

This was the message conveyed to Italian entrepreneurs on Thursday during a conference organized by Italian fashion and textile consortium Sistema Moda Italia and Italian bank Intesa SanPaolo to discuss prospects for the country’s fashion and textile industry.

According to Gregorio De Felice, chief economist at Intesa SanPaolo, in the month of January, total revenues generated by the industry in Italy were down 7 percent compared with January 2012, while exports were up 6.8 percent. Also, exports of the apparel category grew 3.2 percent in January, while those of textile dropped 3.6 percent.

“It’s evident that Italian companies are relying more and more on international markets,” said De Felice, who valued Italian exports of fashion and textile products at about 10 billion euros, or $12.9 billion at current exchange.

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Considering that small companies are those suffering most from the crisis, Paolo Zegna, president of the committee for internationalization of Italy’s industry association Confindustria, highlighted the key role that trade associations should play to boost the expansion abroad of Italian companies. According to Corneliani president and chief executive officer Carlalberto Corneliani, the government should support more Italian entrepreneurs promoting the image of the Made In Italy label in the world, while Marino Vago, ceo of textile company Vago, put the focus on the high costs of energy.

“According to recent research, by reducing the cost of energy by 1 percent, Italian companies could see both their production and exports up, respectively, 5 and 7 percent,” he said.

De Felice forecasts a 1.5 percent drop in Italy’s gross domestic product and a 2 percent decrease in the spending power of Italy’s families. In addition, SMI exiting president Michele Tronconi added how the new government will have to immediately pay back the state debts to private firms and will have to reduce fiscal pressure in order to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in the country.