MILAN — The textile industries in Italy and the U.K. are faring better than their ready-to-wear counterparts, working around the challenges of lockdown, continuing to take orders from clients, making samples and rearranging, rather than canceling, major international showcases, such as Milano Unica. Première Vision, meanwhile, is sticking to its original dates of Sept. 15 to 17.
Fabrizio Ciafrei, managing director of the Loro Piana Textile Division, said he was “not excessively worried” by the new timing of Milano Unica, which will now take place from Sept. 7 to 9, instead of in July. He noted that, until a few seasons ago, Milano Unica was usually held in September, until it switched to the summer date in 2017.
“True, there will be less time available for the entire pipeline, but we believe that, with some effort and rationality, a tighter calendar in this period can be managed,” said Ciafrei.
He conceded that it will be an “unusual” edition of Milano Unica, which will “adapt to the evolution of the measures to contain the virus that will be put in place after the summer. An unusual Milano Unica, but not less attractive — on the contrary.”
Ciafrei believes that just when everyone will be “looking for real excellence and novelties, this event will represent the relaunch for Milan and the entire textile industry, the spark that will restart the whole textile and fashion sector. This also thanks to the development of new digital platforms.”
For Loro Piana, “there will be the opportunity to reinterpret, in a modern key, the excellence of our most exclusive fiber, cashmere, with the development of new fabrics for jackets and coats, increasingly lighter and comfortable.”
Paul Alger, international business director of the UK Fashion and Textile Association, UKFT, said “the general perception is that the textile industry is much less affected than the ready-to-wear side,” which has been negatively impacted by timing.
“I think the September edition of Première Vision should be OK, also because those buyers who skipped the February edition of PV — the Chinese, the Americans and the Japanese — won’t have been to the show for a year,” and there will be pent-up demand, he said.
“Also, despite the absence of those buyers in February, PV hung together pretty well. Buyers that were not able to travel were able to work with local talent spotters and buying houses during the February edition of PV.”
Alessandro Barberis Canonico, chief executive officer of Vitale Barberis Canonico and the newly appointed president of the Milano Unica textile trade show, said that if companies are allowed to return to work in early May, there is “enough time” to produce the collections.
While his company oversees a complete production cycle, from spinning to carding, he admitted that others, which rely on suppliers, may face delays.
Asked about how realistic it is for Milano Unica to be held in September, so soon after lockdown lifts, the executive said that the show “can take place if the pandemic dies down by early June.” He admitted “we are playing in the dark, but we must hold the show, there are no alternatives. It’s the moment to present our creativity.” Traveling could be a concern, either because of protracted bans or for psychological reasons, and social distancing may still feel like a safety net.
Milano Unica is expected to count 414 exhibitors, who are currently “working on the samples. And they will send them somehow. We can ship, so we will do everything possible to present the collections. Italians are creative and will be able to find solutions.” He noted that the trade show’s Shanghai edition is also planned for September with around 60 exhibitors.
Stefano Albini, president of Bergamo, Italy-based cotton specialist Albini Group, said the fall collection is currently being designed remotely and although the manufacturing of samples has been slowed, the company will be able to make up for the lost time, presenting its pre-fall 2021 lineup to clients in July and the fall 2021 at the fair in September.
“We hope to be able to restart on May 4 to avoid being hit by foreign competitors,” Albini noted. He expects fashion sales to start picking up with the fall 2020 season. “I hope the customers’ psychosis will not last longer than the health concerns. As we offer high-quality and sustainable products, we hope the market will repay us instead of turning to average and undifferentiated suppliers,” Albini said, hoping end customers will channel their money into local and European products.
He said the firm could leverage its subsidiaries in Egypt and the Czech Republic to continue its manufacturing activities, although logistics operations and deliveries were put on hold but will resume this week.
The Albini Group’s president was cautiously optimistic about future trends. “The whole world, including Europe and the U.S., which are our most important markets, and the Far East will start to recover despite not returning to a pre-crisis scenario,” he said, citing an International Monetary Fund projection that sees global GDP increasing 5.8 percent in 2021. “The outbreak taught us to be nimble and flexible and eager to change our plans quickly,” he concluded.
The mills and manufacturers are certainly benefiting from fortuitous timing, with those companies working 12 months in advance of the industry. The September trade fairs will showcase fabrics for the fall/winter 2021 collections.
Franco Mantero, ceo of Mantero Seta SpA, shows at Première Vision and said the timing suits the company just right. The show “was always held at the beginning of the fall and never as much as this year the dates in mid-September are so commercially right.”
However, questions remain in terms of health concerns. “We must be sure that all safety measures will be respected. Many events in other sectors have been canceled precisely because they could not guarantee the best compliance to the health protocols.”
He concluded that most of Mantero’s production is made to measure for clients that have different requests, needs and timing so “even more, we will work with single clients in a specific way developing the fabrics that are most suitable for their collections.”
Worries remain, however, and it’s unclear how big the brands’ and designers’ appetites will be for fabric for their new collections and how many people will want to hop a plane to visit a trade fair.
The Italian lockdown lasts until May 3, while it’s unclear when the British one will ease — the British government said it will last for another three weeks, at least.
The Italian fashion industry has repeatedly urged the government to allow businesses to restart even before the lockdown lifts, while the British are eager to get back to work and planning to bring employees back — in phases — in May.
According to preliminary figures released by Confindustria Moda, Italy’s textile industry generated 7.57 billion euros in revenues last year, down 4.7 percent compared to 2018.
Ercole Botto Poala, ceo of Biella, Italy-based textile firm Reda, believes the textile and fashion sectors could feel pressure from the COVID-19 crisis for at least two years.
“The crisis occurred between the last stretch of the fall 2020 sales campaign and the first stages of spring 2021,” he said. “These additional three weeks of lockdown will have an exponential impact, compared to the previous ones. We thought we could catch up by working in August if needed, but those clients that initially accepted a delay might turn to other suppliers if we further postpone shipments for fall 2020 fabrics,” he said, labelling the COVID-19 as an “unfair competitor.”
The company’s sales campaign — which is now being carried out remotely — might face a slump, with cancellations coming in and clients turning to suppliers in Portugal or Turkey that are still operating.
Botto Poala said he was also worried about the spring 2021 collection, which was presented last February.
“Brands and retailers are feeling the impact now, with a spring 2020 season that is almost lost at retail. We will see consequences on orders for next spring — which we already developed and invested in — because they will have dead stock and will probably scale back on requests,” the executive said.
Similarly, Albini noted that orders for the spring 2021 collection might decline “although a few surveys point that when the lockdown is lifted, sales of apparel and tourist services are the first to experience a rebound,” he said.
The textile sector’s slowdown will also have a ripple effect on the fall 2021 season, which will be presented at the Milano Unica textile trade show in September, “the latest acceptable date,” according to Botto Poala.
“We will have to produce a collection with a huge pressure on the little revenues we will have generated by then from the previous, spring 2021, season. Additionally as these collections will hit retail when hopefully the emergency is over, we cannot skimp on them. Fall 2021 is the season for fashion’s relaunch,” he said.
Mantero of Mantero Seta SpA said one of his goals going forward was to understand “the new needs of clients.” He also plans to set up an “organization that will depend on the expected volumes, which will be much smaller compared to our real production capacity.”
Johnstons of Elgin’s ceo Simon Cotton said that while business forges ahead, the company will be casting an eye over budgets and re-evaluating which trade fairs to attend this year.
Johnstons is the U.K.’s largest textile employer, with a fully vertical operation from fiber to finished garment. It employs around 1,000 people and manufactures for the world’s top luxury brands as well as for its own label. With regard to textiles, it sells to a relatively small number of high-end brands.
He said the company is “reviewing everything with regard to trade shows,” including the brand’s participation in Première Vision and Pitti Uomo, which will also take place in September. “It’s unlikely that many buyers will be traveling like they used to, so we’ll be looking at the economics” of taking part in all of the trade fairs, he said.
He acknowledged that the trade fairs themselves are in a difficult position, having to balance their financial concerns and scheduled events with putting measures in place for the safety of buyers and sellers alike. He added that, during the lockdown, companies have been getting used to doing digital presentations and video conferences “and finding more effective ways of reaching their customers,” rather than flying around the world to meet them.
Cotton said Johnstons is currently employing a skeleton staff to take care of sampling, and plans to phase in more workers and operations in May and June, per the British government’s directions. He said samples for the fall 2021 season will be finished in a few weeks.
The British silk supplier Pongees is also concerned that people won’t be flying, and has decided to take a different approach, looking to focus on local business and industries other than fashion for as long as the crisis lasts.
“We were really pleased that Textile Forum [the British fabrics trade fair] took place in March, as we are working on the orders and interest we received from what was the last fabric exhibition of the season, with no further exhibitions in the calendar until the autumn,” said Nick Moore, Pongees’ managing director.
“However, we think that many buyers will not be traveling outside of their home country, so while we already attend many of the leading overseas exhibitions, I will be considering others. In addition, we are looking at developing business in some of the sectors where we have a small footprint — such as interior designers and craft retailers — to increase our presence. Hopefully, as soon as everyone is able to socialize, there will be a demand for new clothes, particularly outfits for special occasions and that is the market in which we excel.”
He said that while business has slowed down in the past couple of weeks, “we decided to remain open, and luckily are still receiving orders, so fabric and swatches are being dispatched daily. We are fortunate that we work mainly with independent designers rather than the large retail fashion groups, so have not been hit as hard as some textile businesses. We always keep a good level of stock so have been able to offer customers our full range and suppliers are now delivering again so that is helpful. We have to remain positive and flexible as business is going to be tough for some time yet.”