EVEN IN UNSURE TIMES, U.S. MARKETS A LURE
Byline: Scott Malone
NEW YORK — Italian mills exhibiting at last week’s I-Texstyle show acknowledged that the slowdown in the U.S. economy has softened their export business.
It hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm for the American market, though, which many companies see as their best opportunity for sales growth. They also noted that the recent weakness of the Italian lira and other currencies linked to the euro has made their prices more competitive in the U.S. market.
“I know business is not good, but I still did good this year,” said Thanos Kamiliotis, president of the New York arm of the Olgiate Comasco-based E. Boselli & Co. mill, citing the favorable exchange rates as helping Italian imports.
At Prato-based Tessile Fiorentina, a maker of fleece, export manager Giovanni Chilleri also said the weak lira “is helping us a bit” in the U.S.
“We try to be competitive, despite the high duties, but it is not so simple,” he said.
European mills should not try to compete on price, he said.
“The only response is to continue to be creative, to do specialty items, to do things that no one else has,” he added.
In any case, he said, the weak fabric market in the U.S. is by no means an anomaly.
“Textiles is tough now all over the world,” he said.
At the Prato-based wovens mill Lanificio FA. I. SA. Srl, Daniel Saccenti, the son of the owner, agreed with that assessment.
“It is a big problem for us, but at this point, I think there isn’t another way to take the business, so we try to do as much research as we can and to be more interesting for our customers and give good service,” he said. “There isn’t one solution. It’s the same way over in Europe as it is here.”
He said the U.S. was his company’s largest export customer and the large companies that dominate the industry have a clear appeal as customers — their demand for large orders.
“In Europe, we don’t sell the same quantity of meters,” he said.
At Lanificio Tessilstrona, of Biella, sales manager Grazia Mello Rella said she believed that demand might start to pick up in the months ahead.
“The summer season, which we are pursuing orders for, is very slow,” she said. “But the mood seems to be that the fall will be better.”
One clear result of the uncertainty about consumer spending has been that fabric buyers are ordering later than usual, several exhibitors reported.
“They are ordering at the last minute,” said E. Boselli’s Kamiliotis. “They’re only buying what they need, and they don’t want to anticipate, and I don’t suggest that they anticipate in times like this.”
However, he added that last minute-orders from the U.S. can be hard to fill when they run into European holiday schedules.
“It’s tricky, because all the Italians are closed in August and everyone wants immediate deliveries,” he said.
With many fabric buyers still focused on fill-in orders for spring-summer 2002, some exhibitors were concerned about how well they would be able to keep the focus on fall-winter 2002-2003, of which the show was intended to be a preview.
At Prato-based Mannifattura Tessuti Piemmeci, sales representative Leonardo Palloni said his company was showing only fall-winter at the exhibition, but added, “we are also taking orders for spring and summer.