Biella: a phoenix from the flames

The Biellese textile cluster is changing its skin. Slowly but inevitably. This is what emerges from the export data published by the Biella Chamber of Commerce about the province export in the first half of 2013

The textile industry is still reducing its weight on the total export performance of the area, from a total value of €605,074,718 registered in the first six months of 2012 to €591,053,627 registered in June 2013, a reduction of more than €14 millions, equal to 2.32%. It still is the main exporting sector, consisting in more than 75% of the value of goods sold abroad by the Biella province; 10 years ago this data was higher of 4 percentage points but the total value amounted to €680,496,604.

Reducing quantity but improving quality

The main consideration that comes from these numbers is that the textile sector in the Biellese area is resisting to the crisis, reducing quantities but improving quality in order to obtaining a higher price for yarns, fabrics and clothes. Manufactures that survived moved to the high end of the market, producing a kind of product for the best fashion designers and for the emerging countries that are in search of the best of made in Italy. But the pre-crisis levels are still far: the export levels of textile and textile machinery manufacturers, compared to the first six months of 2006 and 2010, are respectively lower by 10.6 and 25.6%.

Reading numbers more accurately, it comes out that semi-finished products suffer more than finished ones that get directly to consumers. In the first half of 2013, yarns and fabrics exports diminished respectively of 1.8% and 5.6% compared to the same period of 2012. On the contrary, sales abroad of garment produced in Biella passed from a total value of €78,497,831 to €87,072,905, recording an rise of 11.7%. This is a strong signal of where markups, in the textile and garment sector, lie more and more. This consideration is probably true for a lot of other categories, but during the years in textile this has been the main reason why a lot of companies closed, pushed out of the market by products coming from countries with lower production costs and lower attention to pollution, health and workers’ safety.

The Biellese spinners and weavers gradually assisted to a reduction of their profit spaces, and only those who bet on high quality, offering diversification and innovation, remained alive. Some of them also decided to widen their scope of services starting to produce finished products, in other words becoming also apparel producers. It is the case of Angelico, a traditional wool mill that more than ten years ago acquired a garment manufacturing company and opened a number of shops with its name; Reda, another historic wool mill, started four years ago to produce sport garment in pure wool with the brand Rewoolution, without considering other cases, less recent but incredibly successful like Ermenegildo Zegna, Loro Piana and Cerruti.