Byline: Lucie Muir

MILAN — Stable but not spectacular.
That’s how textile suppliers described business at Moda In, Italy’s bridge fabric and accessories show, attributing it to an overall slowdown in retail sales at home and abroad.
Orders for new collections at the four-day show, which ended Wednesday, were off to a good start, with many of the 453 exhibitors reporting increases as high as 15 percent from last year. But the picture was clouded by reports that the continuing global slump in demand and consumption is expected to worsen this year.
“The general picture is disturbing,” said Franco Bianchi, general director of the show’s organizing committee, SI Tex. “We have seen a reduction in consumer demand by as much as 30 percent in Europe. That’s putting tremendous pressure on the textile sector to create innovative new materials.”
Economic recession has seen exports of Italian fabrics to Germany plummet, and the number of German buyers at the fair was particularly low.
“The German market is a great cause for worry among the Italian mills, as it is one of our strongest in terms of consumption,” said a spokesman at Italmoda. “The unstable situation is influencing other international markets.”
Things are no better on the home front, where continuing political uncertainties are leading Italians to reduce their spending on apparel. Some blamed sluggish clothing sales on a poor choice of bridge fashions by stores and a general resistance from consumers whose closets are already overflowing.
Changes in Italy’s consumer buying patterns were also taken into account.
“The consumer is steering away from the designer labels and toward casual/leisurewear,” said Giovanni Correale, sales director at the Texmantova mill. “As producers of bridge fabrics for apparel, we now have the chance to attract a new category of customers with innovative and creative sportswear.”
Throughout the fair, clothing manufacturers were enticed by a host of new products, from embossed plastics, nylon gauze and acetate blends to a palette that ranged from pale hues — like camel and biscuit — to a multitude of blues and slate. The acidic colors of last season were toned down with pearly finishes and tiny geometric weaves.
Surface texture was of primary importance, with nylon frequently used as a base fiber. At Nero su Nero, nylon was blended with linen into mossy textures. Owner Mauro Clerici said, “Nylon has sold well this season, but when it comes to winter, people still prefer naturals.”
Bold floral prints in rayon and nylon blends were hot at Italmoda, while the firm’s other division, Teseo, showed lightweight fabrics, including silk jacquards, organza and georgette.
“I’m happy about the demand for stripes and the return to floral prints,” said Adriano Clerici, chief executive officer of Teseo.
At Bossi, rayon and polyamide blends were selling well to American buyers, as was the new Smartex finishing, which gives new sheen to cotton and linen twills.
Limonta, a specialist in high tech fabrics, unveiled bonded rubber for rainwear, while outerwear fabrics sported PVC coatings and water-resistant finishes in funky pillbox red and apple green. Giovanni Prosperpio, export manager, said customer service and prompt deliveries were vital when working with American clients. Like other exhibitors, he sees a need to build partnerships and keep regular contact with designers and retailers.
Producers agreed on the importance of the U.S. market, where exports jumped 22 percent in 1995, but they were less happy about import duties, which continued to hit fabric blends.
“Americans want a lot of paperwork, low prices and super-fast deliveries,” commented Nero Su Nero’s Mauro Clerici.
Added Bianchi, “The American markets continue to be good, consumption-wise, but this year we expect our exports to suffer during the run-up to the elections.”
He was confident he European markets would pick up during this period, however, as the weight of the dollar was expected to lift on weaker currencies.
Some of the services textile suppliers are offering include a computer system like the one at Teseo that can print sample lengths from an on-screen menu. This helps move orders faster, and it’s especially important when dealing with U.S. accounts.
“We place great effort in creating specialized fabrics of quality, which are vital if we are to escape the threat of Oriental producers who continue to flood American markets with low-priced fabrics,” said Adriano Clerici.
As a result of lower raw material costs, fabric prices at the show rose only 2 to 5 percent, and producers said those increases were to cover inflation and labor costs.

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