MILAN — A breeze of positivity blew in the hallways of Rho Fiera Milano fairgrounds during Milano Unica. The three-day textile trade show, which closed here on Feb. 8, showcased 470 exhibitors, registering a 14 percent increase compared with the same period last year, while buyers grew 2.4 percent to 5,949 visitors, with international up 10 percent.
In particular, the number of visiting companies from Hong Kong, Russia and Germany increased 70 percent, 54.5 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Attendance of buyers coming from the U.S., China, France and Turkey was also up 19.7 percent, 19,6 percent, 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Overall, the number of visitors was up 17 percent compared to February 2017.
“The offer is more complete,” said the trade show’s president Ercole Botto Poala. “The men’s collections are all here and they are the core of Milano Unica, while the women’s counterpart is increasing, as we registered a 14 percent growth of companies operating in this area. So we’re balancing the offer and clients are responding positively to this.”
Botto Poala shared the sentiment in his other professional role, as chief executive officer of textile company Reda 1865. One of Italy’s best-known purveyors of fine wool fabrics, the Biella-based firm ended 2017 with sales up 18 percent, a result the executive expects to replicate also this year.
“Our growth is due to the general economic recovery of all countries,” explained Botto Poala. Nevertheless, the executive outlined two challenging elements for this year’s business, which are the increasing prices of raw materials — especially wool — and the U.S. dollar’s trend, which is continuing to slide against the euro. The American market accounts for 20 percent of the company’s total sales, while the other two best-performing areas are Europe and Asia. “China can still grow, more moderately but, considering its numbers, still relevantly,” noted Botto Poala, who, on the contrary, considers export to India and South America trickier for bureaucratic and excise duty reasons, respectively.
At Milano Unica, the company presented its spring 2019 textile collection through a storytelling parallel with Milanese artist and writer Bruno Munari. Borrowing some of his concepts, the textiles were divided into four categories, named “Playground,” “Lightness,” “Grisaille” and “We Were Futurists.” Standout pieces in these categories were fabrics featuring micro-dots and small jacquards patterns; super fine and light wool poplins and gabardines ideal for waterproof trenches; gray textiles with delicate graphics and practical, warm-hued fabrics made of twisted yarns, respectively. This last category also included some options of the Reda Active line, which were treated with tech processes to enhance the fabrics’ performance.
Performance was also the main focus for other Italian textile manufacturers responding to a need for practical and multiseasonal garments, in addition to targeting the ath-leisure market.
In particular, many companies developed their collections around the idea of travel.
Nomadism was the theme at Vitale Barberis Canonico, where fabrics were inspired by the colors and graphics of a range of nomad cultures, such as the Mongolian populations of the tundra, the Maasai of the African uplands and desert Tuaregs.
The company also fast-forwarded the inspiration to the contemporary world, debuting the Supersonic line. Conceived for today’s travelers, the line comprises four different interpretations of the same resilient, crease-resistance wool fabric, which features highly twisted yarns for more breathability, comfort properties and is additionally customizable with water-repellent treatments.
“The idea is to have a single suit for different kinds of weather,” said the company’s ceo Alessandro Barberis Canonico, adding that the collection met clients’ expectations at the fair. “This is more a trend than an idea. A while ago, without giving it a name, we developed new textiles as many clients requested fabrics with these features because suits started to become more and more deconstructed and fabrics became essential,” recalled Barberis Canonico.
Based in Prativero, in Italy’s Piedmont region, the wool mill’s sales grew 7.5 percent in 2017 to more than 163 million euros, compared to 152 million euros in 2016. According to the executive, export accounts for 81 percent of the production, with Italy, China, Northern Europe and the U.S. listed as main markets.
“It’s true that the prices for wool have increased but the market is rewarding us, as we didn’t budge on quality,” he continued, adding that growth in 2018 will be challenged by currency exchange rates and the American duty taxes.
“Of course there’s concern [about wool’s increasing prices,] there’s the risk we go off market, but currency exchange rates are what worry me the most,” said Lincoln Germanetti, chief executive officer of Tollegno Holding, comprising wool specialist Tollegno 1900 SpA and Manifattura di Valduggia SpA. Germanetti underscored that wool was underestimated in the past but the demand has increased due to its new fields of application, as in activewear. The executive then focused on the silver lining, mentioning the record number of client’s attendance at Tollegno 1900’s booth during the three-day trade show. “Moments like this also carry a lot of opportunities, there’s a lot of interest [from clients] and we need to be fast and keep investing in innovation, technology and sustainability,” said Germanetti.
Product-wise, the company expanded its Voyager and Multiperformance lines, with the former mixing wool with linen and cotton for stretch, resilient suits and the latter featuring a range of treatments making fabrics resistant to water, stains, smell and UV rays.
Additionally, the mill developed its successful 3-D Wool line of superfine, elasticized wool fabrics, which was first introduced in 2014. This year, Tollegno 1900 is expanding the distribution of this category collaborating with tailoring ateliers directly. The itinerant project will kick off in Italy with the partnership with tailor Alessandro Martorana, who has ateliers in Turin and Milan and for whom the company will manufacture two exclusive 3-D Wool fabrics with designs from its archive. Germanetti aims to take the project abroad, teaming with local tailors in London, the U.S. and Japan in the next 12 months.
Also joining forces, Biella-based Trabaldo Togna inked a partnership with the French Chargeurs Group, specialized in the production of combed wools, for the traceability project Organica. As a result, part of the production of the mill’s key product Estrato — highly stretch fabrics made with natural fibers only — will be manufactured with wools provided by Organica.
The company’s president Luca Trabaldo underscored that the operation responds to clients’ increasing demand to know more about the origins of fibers and their sustainability. “From the U.S. to Japan, those who seek for Italian products are willing to pay the price for it, especially if we invite clients to think about the ethical value of the product and its costs,” said the executive, adding that the increasing prices of raw materials “are favoring us, absurdly, as it is easier to make the market accept them if you offer something innovative.” The company, which ended 2017 with sales up 10 percent, expanded the Estrato line introducing the lightweight, washable and easy to care Cotton Touch wool fabric, among others.
Shirt fabric maker Gruppo Tessitura Monti also followed the sustainable path, presenting fabrics within its new Bio di Tessitura Monti Blue label and Brezza Bio and Hollywood Bio lines, made with high-end materials and finishes that are eco-friendly, being made from organic cottons and linens that have all been Global Organic Textile Standard-certified.
In general, Luca Belenghi, ceo of the Tessile Monti Group, parent company of the Tessitura Monti and Sic.Tess brands, said that the company’s business has been influenced not only by the dollar exchange rate but also by Brexit, which had impact on the U.K. market, representing 15 percent of the firm’s annual sales. The rise of trends favoring activewear and sportswear also impacted the sales and strategies of the company, which is introducing shirts in different fabrics to meet customers’ demands. Belenghi forecasted a moderate growth in 2018, while the group totaled 103 million euros in sales in 2017, up 1 percent compared to the previous year.
In general, Milano Unica spotlighted sustainability promoting the “Save the Planet” theme. Exhibitors devoted their spring 2019 catalogues to trends that support three elements: water, air and earth. The underlying theme was the search for new solutions, the study of technologies that encourage the use of environmentally friendly materials, reusing scraps and the emergence of new projects with zero impact.