ITALY: Knitting sector shines while traditional weaving falls sharply

ROME: Italian textile and apparel sector suffered a significant downsizing over the past several years as Italian companies have battled an onslaught of cheap Asian textile and apparel imports into both the domestic market and traditional export markets.

The traditional spinning and weaving sector output saw a fall of 35 to 40 percent since 2000. The year 2005 was particularly bad year as major products seeing output decline 5 to 12 percent.

In January, the traditional spinning and weaving sector output fell sharply in many of the traditional areas. Total spinning output of all fibers fell 10.6 percent. This weakness was led by cotton spinning output, which plunged 18.6 percent. Total output by the weaving sector plunged 10.4 percent tin January; again the weakness was led by an 18.4 percent decline in the output of cotton fabric. Woolen weaving output also fell 7.4 percent.

The one sector that appears to be experiencing stability in output is the knitting and crocheted product sector. Much of this sectors output, devoted to the production of the cheaper mass market products, appears to have closed down in 2004 and 2005; the output of knit fabric fell 12.5 percent in 2005. However, the top end luxury product output stabilized and actually improved in recent months.

Italy's designers remain well known and these products world renowned. Also, the investment required to produce the top products is not easy to duplicate. Many of the top luxury product brands still require all production to continue in Italy. This policy has continued despite the rapid opening of brand retail outlets in Asia and, in particular, China.

Sales of these products in China are soaring, the Chinese consumer, both at home and while traveling, are now forecast to replace the Japanese as the top market for luxury brands. Luxury apparel sales are booming, not just in China, but throughout Asia.

The apparel lines of many Italian brands dominate the complex. This demand appears to have filtered back into the Italian market.

The monthly output of knit/crocheted pullovers began to improve in November 2005, posting year-on-year growth of 16.3 percent, which was followed by growth of 4.3 percent in December and 7.5 percent in January.

The output of knit/crocheted hosiery actually expanded in 2005, posting a 0.7 percent gain, which was followed by year-on-year growth of 4.2 percent in January 2006. Monthly output of knitted and crocheted apparel products fell only 1.5 percent in 2005. January output experienced a 6.0 percent year-on-year expansion.

Production of knitted/crocheted fabric, which was weak in 2005, saw January output hold steady, declining only 0.4 percent. Monthly output of underwear improved in the fourth quarter of 2005, followed by a 9.5 percent surge in output in January. This strength in output occurred even as total apparel production declined 12.3 percent in 2005 and 4.8 percent in January 2006.

The demand for Italy's top end fashion products is evident the world over, even in the U.S., Italy's exports of apparel posted year-on-year growth in January 2006 of 6.7 percent to 6.1 million square meters; this occurred as overall textile and apparel exports plunged 19.9 percent. Amid these conditions, some stability and hope is now returning to the top end luxury sector of Italy's textile and apparel sector.

See: Output of key sectors in textile and apparel in January 2006

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Added: July 11, 2006 Source: Agencies
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