The Italian textile and fashion industry is expected to log in a year of growth in 2016, although at a moderate pace. According to industry association Sistema Moda Italia, revenues for the sector are expected to gain 2.2 percent in the first six months of the year. In particular, the textile area is forecast to grow 1 percent and the apparel and fashion division 2.9 percent.

In the January-June 2016 period, exports are expected to grow 2.9 percent (in the same period last year they were up 2.3 percent). Imports are expected to grow 5 percent (in 2015 they grew 7.5 percent). “Our forecasts last year for this year were worse, but business is improving,” said SMI president Claudio Marenzi at the presentation of the figures in Milan on Thursday. “Russia is recovering and we see local spending also in cities in the country’s provinces. Russians travel less and they buy more locally.” Marenzi also emphasized growing sales of Italian textiles in China, noting that the Milano Unica trade show in Shanghai has also contributed to the spike. “This is very positive for the Italian textile industry, although I am a little concerned for the fashion compartment [in terms of competition] as the Chinese brands are clearly upgrading with Italian fabrics.”

Gianfranco Di Natale, general director of SMI, said Italy is also showing signs of improvement. “At [international men’s wear trade show] Pitti Uomo in January, for example, there was a very strong Italian presence.” Asked about the recent bilateral government relations between Italy and Iran, Di Natale highlighted the potential in that market for Italian firms. “The medium-high range is missing there, so there is room for our companies to build business in Iran. There is a very strong bourgeoisie in terms of economic power.” As reported, earlier this month, SMI and the Teheran Garment Union, the Iranian textile and apparel organization that includes more than 20,000 firms, inked a memorandum of understanding aimed at developing business between the two countries. The goal is to fuel imports and exports between Iran and Italy, strengthen industrial cooperation and share knowhow, specifically in fashion textiles.

Marenzi and Di Natale said a second meeting of the committee spearheaded by former vice minister of economic development Carlo Calenda and set up to coordinate Italian fashion trade shows to achieve more pulling power is planned for April 28. The goal is to create a dedicated event in September during Milan Fashion Week, although the details are still being mapped out. Chiming in on the discussion of timing of the shows, Marenzi said the association is working on setting up different fashion and textile fairs closer to each other in terms of timing to draw the buyers.

In 2015, the Italian textile and fashion industry is expected to close 2015 with sales of 52.6 billion euros, or $ 58.4 billion at average exchange rate, up 1.1 percent from the previous year. Textiles are seen inching up 0.1 percent, while the fashion and apparel division is expected to gain 2 percent, which represents a slowdown compared with 2014, when it was up 2.8 percent.

In 2015, exports were up 2.1 percent to 29.1 billion euros, or $32.3 billion, despite a slowdown of the emerging countries, which was “more consistent than expected;” a heightened Russian crisis; a reduction of the competitive advantage associated with the weak euro following the devaluation of currencies in other countries such as China, and a weak performance of the European Union.

Last year, exports to the U.S. grew 17.3 percent to 2.12 billion euros, or $2.35 billion, representing 7.3 percent of the total. The region is the third market for Made in Italy products and the first outside of Europe. A double-digit growth is expected in the U.S. in 2016.

Sales in Hong Kong climbed 13.1 percent to 1.6 billion euros, or $1.77 billion, accounting for 5.5 percent of total. Sales in China rose 10 percent to 961 million euros, or $1.06 billion, and were up 2.2. percent in Japan to 938 million euros, or $1.04 billion. Hong Kong, China and Japan are expected to continue to grow in 2016 but hardly at a double-digit pace. Russia was down 31.2 percent to 872 million euros, or $968 million, but the region is expected to recover in 2016 and return to the levels at the end of 2014.

The European Union accounted for 55 percent of total sales, up 2.5 percent. Sales in countries outside the European Union gained 1.6 percent.