Italian textile mills are investing in faster, more efficient equipment to remain competitive, like this XT spinner at Luigi Botto.

A sea change is in the works for the Italian textile industry, involving a widespread investment in technology and equipment and a restructuring of the entire trade show process.<BR><BR>Together with innovative design, substantial investments in...

A sea change is in the works for the Italian textile industry, involving a widespread investment in technology and equipment and a restructuring of the entire trade show process.

Together with innovative design, substantial investments in machinery will enhance Italy’s competitiveness with low-cost countries by allowing greater flexibility and speed.

To capitalize on the recovery that’s expected for the second half of 2005 and to attract more visitors to Italy’s trade fairs, organizers of the main textile shows, including Idea Biella, Idea Como and Moda In, are working to combine these exhibitions into one big trade show, to be held just before Paris’ massive Première Vision fair.

“Trade exhibitions are still important and there is a need for a more substantial fair, as the existing ones are way too fragmented today,” said Arianna Leone, vice president of Gruppo Luigi Botto.

Luciano Bandi, who heads the yarn division at Loro Piana, said as Italy is increasingly focused on foreign markets, this would be a way to please buyers and visitors coming from outside the country, who would save time, energy and money. “[A single fair] would also help showcase and enhance a wider variety and range of offers and ideas which are often dispersed and overlooked through too many exhibitions,” said Bandi.

Beppe Pisani, president of Idea Como, said the one show is confirmed for the first week of March and it will be held at the fairgrounds here. Pisani called it more of a “container” and different from other shows, as it will regroup Idea Biella, Idea Como, Shirt Avenue and Moda In under the same roof, but each will maintain its own identity, autonomy and organization.

“We are still deciding on the name, but we want a simple one, and we are setting up a new organizing body based in Milan that will be in charge of the show’s advertising and communication,” said Pisani.

Pisani said he expects the number of exhibitors to be around 600 on about 216,000 square feet. Typically among the smaller shows, Shirt Avenue lists around 40 exhibitors, Idea Biella around 70, Idea Como around 60, Prato Expo around 100, and Moda In around 300 or 400.

This story first appeared in the September 20, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

By comparison, Première Vision, which runs this week in Paris, has 727 exhibitors and draws about 35,000 buyers.

“I am very pleased with this development,” said Pisani, noting how organizers had been talking about this issue for at least two years. “This is a big service we offer to our clients and exhibitors, who, with such turbulent markets, simply don’t have the time or the budget to travel around Italy attending all these shows.”

There are still some kinks to work out, though. Pisani added that mills from the Como district could not miss this show. However, the dates “penalize the kind of product we show, which is more design and pattern-oriented, not basic — it’s always a work in progress for us as we work with designers who give their input even after their shows.”

Accordingly, Pisani said he is working toward creating a meeting point in Como after the Paris shows.

And Vincenzo Pagano, president of Prato Trade, which organizes the Prato Expo show, said, “In theory, we agree to a single exhibition as a service to our clients, but we need to evaluate the costs of moving to Milan from Prato and to discuss the strategies of the companies in our Prato district. We need time, and a decision cannot be made by March.”

Pisani averred the decision to have a single show was “not a declaration of war” against Première Vision, which he described as a “beautiful and well-organized exhibition — simply, it was silly not to have a single fair here that would combine the best textile companies.”

Pisani doubted these companies would abandon Première Vision. “You don’t leave what is sure for the unsure: I myself am not leaving Première Vision.” Pisani’s company, Serikos, shows at the French fair. Changes, he said, could come over the course of three or four seasons, if the Milan show becomes a double of Première Vision.

Back on the investment and cost front, Cristiana Cariaggi, communications manager at Cariaggi, believes in investing in a classic product on the high-quality, higher-price end of the scale. The market is still “difficult,” she said, adding, “a lower cost of cashmere is helping.” While expanding its business abroad, as Italy accounts for 80 percent of revenues, Cariaggi is firm on maintaining production in Italy. This view is shared by the Fondazione Biella, an association headed by Ermanno Rondi and founded at the end of 2000 in the northern town of Biella to guarantee Italian quality and standards. Rondi said the associates are restructuring and investing in new machinery that will allow greater flexibility and speed. “Until 2000, orders were based on big volumes. Today, orders are smaller but more frequent and faster,” said Rondi. Accordingly, textile companies must always be prepared with large stocks. “Although risky, this is the only way to work today, as clients often put in orders one day to the next,” said Cariaggi.

“Designers and knitwear companies expect an increasingly faster response from us,” said Mila Zegna Baruffa, who is in charge of product and communications at Zegna Baruffa-Lane Borgosesia. This fall, the company is setting up a stock house in Shanghai to “offer a service and meet the demand of our clients that produce there,” she said. Zegna Baruffa insisted on the value of research. This summer, the company trademarked a new 18-micron Saxxon wool with a natural elasticity, as if it were mixed with spandex, which comes from special sheep grown in Australia after years of research.

As stock expenses are becoming barely sustainable, investments in technology are one way to cut costs and guarantee flexibility and fashion content. Leone said Luigi Botto has invested $85 million over the past five years in a new spinning process. The outcome is XT-more, a yarn that is more compact and lighter. “These machines produce a larger number of yarns and allow to intertwine the yarn for richer, four-color mélanges,” said Leone.

Zegna Baruffa predicts a return of mohair and “yarns that have a rich, fluffy feel,” that trigger a need to reach out and touch them. Zegna Baruffa said “anything goes,” any yarn or material, from chenille to silk. “It is the client who eventually makes the difference, the way he or she interprets the yarn,” she said, noting how this implies “constant work” between the textile company and the designer to fine-tune the materials.

“Clients now expect silk to look and feel like silk, Shetland wool to look and feel like Shetland wool — they choose materials based on their qualities,” agreed Bandi. “The different workmanships and variations on the yarns, so that silk looks like wool or wool looks like silk, for example, are so expensive that often clients simply can’t afford them and they’d rather go for the original, clean material.”