The weak US dollar and high wool prices were the major concerns for Italian spinners at the latest edition of Pitti Filati in Florence.
These factors were a blight on what was otherwise a more positive Pitti Filati following a better year for this beleaguered part of the sector. Having undergone huge consolidation and restructuring, many Italian spinners reported that the dramatic decline in sales of the past two to three years had finally come to an end.
Official figures seemed to bear this out, with sales up across the industry by an estimated 1.3% to EUR3.5 billion (£2.3bn). The wool spinners have led the recovery, seeing their part of the sector grow by 3% year on year. Cotton and linen spinners did not fare so well, falling 4% and 7% respectively.
Many of the spinners showing at Pitti Filati have consolidated into one production plant, closed any secondary dyeing facilities and laid off a substantial number of their workforce. They have also rethought their attitudes to service, and at Pitti Filati many of them were pushing extended stock services and shorter lead time capabilities, coupled with their ability to innovate and provide yarn of the highest quality.
Whether the industry's decline has been halted was too close to call, according to Giacomo Festa Bianchet, president of spinner Lora & Festa. He said the decline had been halted by brands returning to Italian yarns after bad experiences in the Far East, but he was worried about the outlook for spring 2008. The weakness of the US dollar may, he said, have made buying Italian yarns prohibitive. High wool prices would also have to be passed on to the customer, which could damage sales. "Cashmere and fine wool prices are up 20%. There is a shortage of the good-quality wool we need. If you want to get hold of it, you cannot sit around - you have to buy it at the high price. If we cannot then sell it on, we will lose out," he said.
Giuliano Coppini, chairman of Lineapiu, agreed, but was more upbeat in his outlook. He said: "Our sales stabilised at EUR90 million (£59.5m) in 2006 against EUR89.5m the year before. The main reason was that a significant amount of customers came back to us after feeling unhappy with the quality they bought elsewhere. We are looking to maintain the same sales level this year and cut costs elsewhere to improve our margins. It is all about being flexible and having the sort of business that can adapt to these external influences."
Designers and buyers at the show were generally happy with what was on offer, although some said they would have liked to have seen more transitional yarns as well as high-summer options. One UK menswear brand representative said talk of price rises should be taken with a pinch of salt. "They will be spinning spring 08 stock from wool they bought last year at lower prices, so we will not see a hike until at least the second half of this year."
Matalan women's knitwear buyer Alison Taggart agreed. "We had been looking at the cashmere mixes here and were surprised at some of the prices available. The spinners are being flexible and coming up with solutions. Because the yarn is getting finer and prices are based on the weight, you can get more out of the yarn, which will counterbalance the price issue."
With less full-on saturates and neons for spring 08, the bright tones are far more wearable. The emphasis is on Mediterranean shades, but there are lots of jewel-like brights better suited to the UK market.
Fine yarns knitted into intricate open patterns are proving to be a popular theme. This transparent approach is likely to lead to a layered look in knitwear for spring 08.
Metallics are still big news, but the emphasis this season is on a more sophisticated look. The shine is less obvious and lurex is integrated into the yarns to give a more fluid feel.
A washed out, almost vegetable feel to colours is coming through, and will attract those producing sophisticated fine gauge knits. However, some of the darker colours could be difficult in northern Europe.
WHAT THE BUYERS SAID ...
- Designer Clare Dwyer, Crystal Martin
"Pitti Filati is all about what the Chinese can't do. The Italians offer refinement. I have seen a lot of yarns that produce a beautiful draped linen effect. There are some nice luxe-sportswear looks. But overall the trends haven't moved on much from spring 06. There are still plenty of metallics, but they are less glitzy and more sophisticated than before."
- Senior designer Rachel Norrie, Emreco
"We have seen a lot of colours that we like. There are still some quite acidic brights, but the pastels and earthy tones will work for us. There are some good linen viscose mixes and metallics are more subtle. In terms of stitch inspiration there are lots of lacy or translucent looks, which may be a problem for our market as we would have to provide an undergarment."
- Director Jane Chadwick, Quinton Chadwick
"I've seen some interesting colour palettes that remind me of the washed-out look of watercolour paintings, but there are also some punchy saturated brights around. In terms of yarn trends it all seems oriented towards fine gauges. I've seen some interesting matt linen yarns with a hint of viscose. Tape yarns are also making a comeback."
- Assistant knitwear designer Vicky Gee and junior buyer Nicky Hamilton, Per Una
"We have seen lots of crispy dry handle, almost coarse yarns, and there is lots of Lurex. The stitchwork has been really interesting on samples. There is a lot of fine-gauge work, where the yarn has been knitted to relieve tension, which translates into a mesh or lacy look."