MILAN — With its home economy expected to slide further, Italian fabric and yarn makers are focused on exporting outside of the troubled European Union to countries with more stable or growing economies, such as China, India and the U.S.
Fabric producers at Milano Unica, the three-day show that ended Thursday, said despite uncertainty over the weakening euro and higher raw material prices, they’re seeing positive sales trends as they kicked off their spring 2013 season.
Earlier, at the Pitti Filati trade fair in Florence, currency fluctuations posed a concern for high-end Italian yarn makers presenting their 2013 spring collections, as a weaker euro against the strengthening U.S. and Australian dollar cast a question mark over full-year forecasts.
Italy’s gross domestic product contracted 0.2 percent in the third quarter of 2011 and some economists see the economy contracting further in 2012, as consumers tighten their spending. Data compiled by Italian fashion and trade lobby Sistema Moda Italia showed that export growth outside the EU is outpacing that among the 27-nation bloc, rising 12.3 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively, last year.
Milano Unica saw the number of visitors fall 10 percent to 18,000, but a 7 percent increase in foreign visitors revealed a strong interest in the fair emanating from Greater China — Chinese visitors increased 73 percent, while there were 109 percent more from Hong Kong and 35 percent more from France.
“China, together with Hong Kong, is one of Italy’s most important markets for textiles, second only to Germany,” Milano Unica organizers said.
As a result, Milano Unica is in the process of organizing two editions of the fair in China, one in Beijing and one in Shanghai, and will also be at the Milano Unica pavilion dedicated to Italian fabrics at the Intertextile Beijing Fair from March 28 to 30.
Loro Piana, chief executive officer Pierluigi Loro Piana, said the company is interested in improving its presence in cities like Beijing and Shanghai and is planning new openings for the next three years, in addition to the 13 stores it already has in Greater China. Japan, a key market for Loro Piana, showed a surprising turnaround in 2011 after the tsunami and earthquake tragedy in 2011, Loro Piana said.
“We thought it would be a disaster,” he said. “Sales grew 8 percent [in Japan].”
Franco Ferraris, ceo of Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna & Figli, cited India as a market with great potential, adding, “India has about a billion people — it has an economy that is growing.”
Tessuti di Sondrio general manager Fabio Grazioli said the brand is concentrating on the Far East and the U.S. markets, noting “The U.S. is a market that understands high-end sportswear.”
Tessuti di Sondrio, a company owned by the Marzotto Group that specializes in cotton and linen looks, showcased pastel pants and jackets at its Hamptons beach-inspired stand. Periwinkle blue and powder pink made their way onto slacks and blazers for men. Linen blazers, explorer jackets and double breasted coats demonstrated the many ways the material can be worn for all occasions.
Lane Bottoli owner Roberto Bottoli noted that linen is on the rise because it is an adaptable material that makes for more relaxed, worn and even luminous effects. Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna’s Tessitura di Novara unit showcased lightweight sportswear blazers and jackets armed with water repellent silk for men and women.
At Biella-based Botto Fila, fine mixed yarns like wool and silk gave men’s looks a refined elegance. Women’s wear at Loro Piana was also fused with cashmere and silk yarns. Seterie Argenti featured digital silk patterns that recalled the floral gardens and lily pad-lined ponds of Monet and Renoir, as well as silk jacquard prints.
Pitti Filati organizers said the yarn fair, which ended its three-day run Jan. 27, saw 1,500 foreign buyers, in line with a year ago, with a marked improvement from Japan, Holland, Germany and Turkey.
The Italian yarn industry posted 3.48 billion euros, or $459.5 billion at current exchange, in revenue in 2011, its highest sales in five years, according to industry trade group Sistema Moda Italia and national statistics office Istat Italy. But with the European debt crisis driving the euro down against the two currencies, in which raw materials like cotton and wool are priced, the outlook for 2012 remains uncertain. On Monday, the euro traded at $1.32, compared to $1.37 a year ago, and 1.23 Australian dollars, also compared to 1.37 Australian dollars a year ago.
“The currency effect has changed everything,” said Antonio Bigolin, owner of Alpes, noting that a weaker euro helps exports, but a stronger dollar means less raw material purchasing power.
Due to recent currency movements and the persistently unpredictable raw material fluctuations, Botto Poala raised prices for its collection 25 to 30 percent compared to its spring line.
“In 2011, sales for Botto Poala were pretty solid, but 2012 still remains uncertain,” said Alfredo Botto Poala, president of Zegna Baruffa Lane Borgosesia, which owns Botto Paola.
Despite these issues, as well as sluggish consumer spending in Italy and competition from China’s growing yarn industry, the biggest names in Italy are poised to emerge from the ongoing crisis stronger than before, said Raffaello Napoleone, ceo of organizing body Pitti Immagine.
“We will most likely see a rise in exports in 2012,” he added. “Companies that export more than 60 to 70 percent abroad will be able to resist.”
Revenue from the Italian yarn industry’s exports are expected to show an 11.2 percent rise to 982 million euros, or $1.3 billion, in 2011.
A more vivid color palette made for more versatile, edgy collections with geometric or tribal prints. Cariaggi showcased Linum, a linen and cashmere yarn that fuses the two different fibers together, creating one fluid thread. Botto Poala presented its Dragon line, a pure silk thread for elegant garments that follow the body’s movements. At Botto Giuseppe, silk was mixed with linen for slubbed, multicolor effect, while Filatura di Pollone presented its Soave Catenella thread, a cotton and melange linen with a vintage feel.