The scene at the 29th edition of textile trade show Milano Unica.

MILAN — Exhibitors at the 29th edition of the Milano Unica textile trade show were blunt as they noted business in the first months of 2019 has been underperforming, dented by geopolitical uncertainties, soaring prices for raw materials and the casualization trend.

The three-day event, which closed here on July 11, spotlighted innovation in both products and processes. Innovation was also seen as the real driver for a more sustainable approach to business at Milano Unica, where stretch and performance fabrics stood out among the key trends.

“Sustainability and digitalization are both subjects we need to address as a system,” said Ercole Botto Poala, president of the textile trade show, during the opening speech. “Our aim, as a fair, is to highlight the speed of change,” he added noting “every company should bring in-house the key assets to keep up with today’s evolving scenario, otherwise we’re losing an opportunity.”

Edoardo Zegna, head of content and innovation at the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, speaking at the inauguration for the first time, said “the question is not whether transparency and sustainability become relevant at some point, but when consumers will no longer accept products without those features,” he said.

According to figures released by Confindustria Moda, in the three months ended March 31, the Italian textile industry registered a 3.5 percent contraction in production volumes while exports decreased 2.3 percent to 806 million euros in the same period.

The negative trend contrasts with the positive results for fiscal 2018, which had cast hope on industry’s players to keep growing despite difficulties. According to consolidated figures for 2018, revenues grew 0.8 percent to 7.94 billion euros, despite a slowdown in the last quarter. Exports to European countries decreased 4 percent in 2018 while overseas exports were up 1.9 percent.

In the first quarter of 2019, exports to extra-European countries registered a 0.7 percent drop compared to the same period a year earlier, while intra-European exports showed a sharp 3.8 percent contraction.

In keeping with its attempt to become an enabler for its exhibitors and promote a team-building approach, Milano Unica unveiled in February its marketplace, which around 150 companies have embraced so far. Additionally, Botto Poala announced the fair will also offer digital training courses to its exhibitors in partnership with Banca Sella. The trade show will partner with the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, supplying textiles to the five finalists competing for the Franca Sozzani GCC Award to be bestowed upon the best emerging designer during the Green Carpet Awards on Sept. 22 during Milan Fashion Week.

Stressing the importance of acting as a system for the industry’s voice to be heard internationally, Alberto Paccanelli, the recently appointed president of Euratex, explained the region has found a “shared commitment to support local manufacturing as opposed to favoring globalization.” Carlo Capasa, president of the national fashion chamber, praised the team-building mind-set since Italy accounts for 41 percent of the European fashion production and “its guidelines should count more than anybody else’s.”

While acknowledging difficulties, the 465 exhibitors were still optimistic as they unveiled their textile collections for fall 2020. The fair attracted more than 6,000 visitors, in line with the same edition in 2018, with foreign companies growing 2.6 percent.

Storied wool mill Botto Giuseppe marked a new step for its Naturalis Fibra collection by introducing the Slowoolly line of natural stretch combed cashmere fabrics available in five natural colors and sourced from the Alashan region located between China and Mongolia. Selecting partner farms that are Responsible Wool Standard-certified and able to provide traceability is a top priority for Silvio Botto Poala, the company’s chief executive officer, who said “suppliers and textile firms should work synergistically.”

A fabric from Botto Giuseppe "Slowoolly" line for fall 2020.

A fabric from Botto Giuseppe Slowoolly line for fall 2020.  Courtesy Photo.

”Some of our traditional clients are moving toward sustainability and also small and young companies are pushing the conversation forward, so revenues are growing along with sustainability,” the executive explained noting 20 percent of the firm’s collections are labeled as green, but he expects the category to reach 50 percent in five years. The company can leverage cradle-to-cradle certified dyes for knitwear; fluorine-free, water-repellent treatments. and mulesing-free wools in addition to eco-friendly industrial premises in Valle Mosso and Tarcento, in the Piedmont and Friuli Venezia-Giulia regions, respectively.

“Sustainability comes with an extra cost and limitations, for longer production times, which requires a certain planning,” Silvio Botto Poala said. Despite a 10 percent contraction in sales of men’s fabrics in the first half of 2019, the ceo said he expects to close 2019 in line with the previous year when the firm generated revenues of 64 million euros, as the company has been traditionally focused on women’s fabrics. China and the U.S. are the firm’s top markets, with the latter country particularly keen on eco-friendly products.

According to consolidated figures, exports to the U.S. in the first three months of 2019 registered a 15.5 percent uptick compared to the same period a year earlier, while in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and Vietnam showed the highest growth rate, with a 5.6 percent and 28.5 percent increase, respectively.

Guaranteeing animal welfare to secure the fabric’s quality is core to Piacenza Cashmere, a wool mill established in 1623 on the outskirts of Biella. Run by the 13th and 14th generation of owners, the textile firm still sources in Perù the vicuna and cashmere fibers that were crafted for its fall 2020 Cocoon collection of super soft fabrics worked for example for a belted nightgown.

“The choice of raw materials is crucial, and going directly to the source represents a plus, allowing us to control the supply chain and exchange our know-how with local communities,” said Vasiliy Piacenza, brand manager and son of Carlo, the company’s ceo. He stressed that sourcing the fabrics in the South American country and sustaining local breeders is key to the company’s sustainable commitment.

Process-wise, Piacenza Cashmere, which allocates 10 percent of its revenues to innovative solutions each year, has implemented machines to reduce the use of chemical dyes by 20 percent and boasts a water purification system installed back in the Seventies.

With the Asian market particularly booming, the company expects to close 2019 up 5 percent compared to 2018 when it generated 50 million euros in revenues. “We’re specialized in a niche product and luxury is not suffering as much as the contemporary, middle segment is,” Piacenza explained.

Sticking to its vision is also key to Trabaldo Togna, which over the past seasons has been banking on its Estrato collection of naturally elasticized fabrics, first unveiled in 1998. Enhanced by antibacterial, water-repellent fluorine-free finishings, the collection spanned lightweight wool fabrics, as well as cashmere.

A natural stetch fabric from Trabaldo Togna's Estrato collection for fall 2020.

A natural stretch fabric from Trabaldo Togna’s Estrato collection for fall 2020.  Courtesy Photo.

For fall 2020, the company’s natural stretch technique was further improved to obtain a cashmere fabric boasting 25 percent to 30 percent of elasticity, as opposed to 40 percent for wools.

The firm’s president, Luca Trabaldo, underscored that in addition to performance the collection “is also naturally sustainable, as it avoids man-made fabrics, thus being biodegradable and recyclable,” he said adding weaving wastes are sold to and repurposed by other industries.

Upping the ante on traceability, the company also applied voluntarily for the Control Union audit and the Organica label by Chargeurs Luxury Materials. Trabaldo said “in addition to the value of Made in Italy, traceability and the blockchain will allow us to guarantee the fabrics’ origin and push clients to reject products that are not authentic,” he said.

Despite geopolitical turmoil and trade wars, the company expects to register a single-digit growth in 2019 backed by exports especially to Japan, Germany, the U.S. and China, which despite representing a small portion of the business has registered the highest growth rate in 2018. The wool mill’s revenues in 2018 totaled 25 million euros, up 20 percent compared to 2017.

At Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti 1881 it’s a pivotal phase, a year after fund Njord Partners acquired 80 percent of the wool mill and seasoned executive Paolo Torello-Viera was appointed as ceo. “We’re still reorganizing the structure to optimize production throughout the supply chain,” Torello-Viera said adding investments include the purchase of industrial assets, such as new warping machines in 2020, and human resources with key hires in the communication and commercial departments.

“It’s a phase of epochal change because of the industry’s identity crisis and a shift in consumers’ habits. It’s not important how fast you run but to run in the right direction,” he said, noting the company has taken on a streamlined product offering in line with its heritage. For fall 2020, Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti unveiled a new wool fabric called iShield, which boasts a fluorocarbon-free treatment securing stain-resistant and crease-free features, as well as preventing the fabric from unraveling and deterioration.

The moodboard for Lanificio F.lli Cerruti fall 2020 collection.

The moodboard for Lanificio F.lli Cerruti fall 2020 collection.  Courtesy Photo.

The executive expects the company to generate revenues of 60 million euros in 2019, up from 56 million euros in 2018. The Asia-Pacific region is particularly strong, especially Japan and Hong Kong, as is Italy while the U.S. still lags behind. “It’s the land of opportunities, it’s a market developing around the ready-to-wear giants and on made to measure,” he said noting the firm is focused on expanding the latter category.

The Marzotto Wool Manufacturing company, which operates the Marzotto, Fratelli Tallia di Delfino and Guabello textile firms, has allocated 18 million euros in innovative solutions over the past four years in order to “face today’s epochal changes, with formalwear especially suffering, although I believe this is a temporary situation,” explained Giorgio Todesco, ceo of the company, which in 2018 totaled 246 million euros in revenues.

Todesco said the company is registering good performances in Europe, South Korea and Japan and noted “Africa in 2030 will represent a target market, with a 2.8 billion population, 10 percent of which will have the spending power to address our products.”

For fall 2020, the Marzotto brand presented the Touch 96 range of machine-washable wools intended for the shirting category and the B-Dynamic high-performance natural stretch wools.

Addressing the sustainable conversation, Marzotto launched the Organic Project, a lineup of wool and wool/cotton blends that are GOTS- and Responsible Wool Standard-certified. In addition, through a partnership with Milan-based digital company Sense — Immaterial Reality, Marzotto debuted a digital catalogue gathering all its textiles, which can also be seen in movement through an augmented reality tool.

A fabric from Marzotto's Organic Project's fall 2020 collection.

A fabric from Marzotto’s Organic Project’s fall 2020 collection.  Courtesy Photo.

In order to tap into the younger generations, for its Guabello line, the company debuted the Royal Flannel Motion collection, which includes flannels that boast stretch and comfort features. They were reinterpreted by Camo’s designer Stefano Ughetti for a range of ath-leisure outfits. The Tallia di Delfino brand, which offers high-end fabrics, debuted at Milano Unica a eco-friendly line of 13-micron cashmere coming from pre- and post-weaving wastes.

Less dented by soaring prices of raw materials, other textile firms are equally feeling the pressure coming from uneven sales performances and adjusting to offer new innovative products to sustain growth.

Cotton specialist Albini Group, parent company of the Albini 1876, Albini Donna, Thomas Mason and Albiate 1830 brands, hosted its first Albini Next think thank on the outskirts of Bergamo ahead of the fair.

Aimed at leveraging a collaborative mind-set to provide the company with high-tech innovations coming also from other industries, the format “was conceived to gather a pool of innovative companies to support our industrial know-how today, not in 10 years,” explained Stefano Albini, president of the group.

The event also marked the debut of the Progetto 0 Hemotion, presented also at Milano Unica. The range of Australia-sourced traceable and sustainable wools was weaved using cotton machines and treated with the Superwash finishing to obtain natural stretch, machine washable and wrinkle-free fabrics. The company said it pledges to patent the innovation.

The company, which closed 2018 with revenues of 150 million euros, expects 2019 to be a “year of reflection, with growth in the yarn category to 30 million euros [up from 25 million euros in 2018] and less in the textile category,” Albini said mentioning political instability in Europe as among the causes to a slowdown in business. He added the U.S. and Asia are particularly strong.

In terms of environmentally responsible practices, Albini touted the company’s “transparent approach,” on the origin of its raw materials, as well as being part of the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme coalition. In addition, the firm will spearhead a UNIDO-backed program in Egypt for the installment of sustainable cotton fields.

The awareness toward sustainability is growing exponentially and although a shared standard has yet to be achieved, we started before many other players so we can boast a serious advantage,” he underscored.

Italian high-performance fabrics’ company Eurojersey marked its return to Milano Unica after almost 20 years to showcase how its patented Sensitive Fabrics are applied to a number of fashion projects, including the Untraditional Tailoring collection in which the polyamide and Lycra blend — that is wrinkle-free, breathable and machine-washable — is printed with traditional British patterns, such as tweed, twill and checks. The same technique was applied for a range of Oxford shirts developed in collaboration with Italian retailer Boggi; Herno’s First Act range of outerwear and Burberry’s printed leggings.

A coat made of Eurojersey's printed Sensitive Fabric.

A coat from Eurojersey’s “Untraditional Tailoring” collection made of printed Sensitive Fabrics.  Andrea Butti/Courtesy Photo.

Born as a supplier of performance fabrics for swimwear and underwear, Eurojersey’s managing director Andrea Crespi noted the company “can leverage a multifunctional product that has allowed us to constantly reinvent ourselves.” The men’s, women’s and ath-leisure segments account for 40 percent of the textile specialist’s turnover, which in 2018 totaled 74 million euros and the executive sees a growth potential for men’s especially.

Despite employing man-made fabrics, Eurojersey is stressing its sustainable commitment adhering to the Product Environmental Footprint program, which evaluates the impact of the whole production process through 16 markers, including the reduction of energy, water and carbon emissions. “Green washing represents 85 percent of what is labeled as sustainable. It’s time for the industry to move on from what needs to be done to how we can do it,” Crespi said. He added the company earmarks around 10 percent of its revenues to R&D.

Como-based silk specialist Canepa is going through a delicate phase, after the founder Michele Canepa along with fellow investor Maurizio Ceriani fully acquired the company from former owner DeA Capital Alternative Funds SGR returning to take control of the business his family had founded in 1967 and which he left in 1998. In June, the company decided to file a restructuring plan with the Court of Como that would allow it to continue to operate while holding discussions with creditors under the so-called process of “composition with creditors.”

“I’m busy fine tuning a company that had gone through six to 12 months of confusion,” Canepa explained. “The company I found was less efficient than when I left, but over the past three months it has already changed its aspect,” he said touting the firm’s expertise and industrial assets and adding sales for the spring 2020 season already exceeded the target set with the Court of Como. Although prudent given the restructuring phase and trade wars denting the business, Canepa said Italy, France, the U.S. and the U.K. are the best-performing markets.

A jacquard fabric from Canepa's fall 2020 collection.

A jacquard fabric from Canepa’s fall 2020 collection.  Davide Sala/Courtesy Photo.

For the fall 2020 collection Canepa showed its high skills by offering a range of jacquard fabrics with 3-D effects that blend silk with polyester, viscose and Lurex threads to create realistic floral motifs, while printed textile spanned from greenery to geometric patterns in a range of pastel tones and subdues dark hues.

The silk specialist, through its Canepa Green Lab division, is upping the ante on sustainability by introducing GOTS-certified silks and cottons, as well as Global Recycle Standard-approved wools and polyesters. “Canepa has been a leader in sustainability having already aligned to the Greenpeace’s Detox standards, so that suppliers throughout our pipeline are responsible,” Canepa said.

The executive also revealed he’s working on a project of circular economy that will encompass recycling fibers, weaving and textile wastes in collaboration with the Apulia Politecnico university.