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Seven centuries of wool fabrics


Seven centuries of wool fabrics Rome - (Ign) - The oldest official document dates back to 1313. This is the statute of the "Arte della Lana di Prato", a set of technical regulations which had to be observed by Tuscan craftsmen working in the spinning and weaving of wool. And still today, seven centuries later, the area of Prato, near Florence, represents one of the three industrial districts in Italy where national wool production is concentrated. This is one of the strongest elements in the vast Italian textiles and clothing manufacturing system (www.sistemamodaitalia.it), and a large part of the yarns and fabrics in wool sold in the world originate from here. We can in fact consider woollen fabric, above all at the top end of the market, as a typical Italian product, on the same level as many food specialities, sports cars or industrial machinery. In fact, in terms of value, over 40% of the world trade in woollen fabrics is represented by Italian products. This supremacy reaches levels of 80% if we only consider products at the top end of the market, manufactured using the finest raw materials. These do not seem to be affected by the trends of international markets, which have been affected by the consolidation of new industrial giants from Asia. On the contrary, over recent years the Italian world market share of woollen fabrics has remained basically unchanged, despite China's having doubled, from 4 to 8%.
The main export markets for Italian products are European countries, accounting for around 45%, but also all those with a well-developed clothing industry, such as Turkey, Romania, Hong Kong, Spain and also China. Overall, the value of Italian exports of wool yarns and fabrics is around 2.7 billionn € per year, out of an overall turnover of 4.4 billion. The sector accounts for over 12,000 jobs, concentrated in three areas: that of Prato, which has the oldest tradition in the field; Schio and Valdagno, in the province of Vicenza, in Veneto; and Biella, in Piedmont, with the world's largest concentration of industries dedicated exclusively to the production of high-quality and luxury woollen fabrics. The roots of this tradition are also historical in the area of Biella, and date back to the early industrial revolution at the end of the 17th century, when the first small production plants were set up. These exploited the energy provided by the area's many natural watercourses. In Veneto, meanwhile, the growth of these industries is due above all to the setting up of some large factories in the first half of the 19th century, around which innumerable related industries then developed, making the valleys of Schio and Valdagno for many decades the main industrial centre for wool production in the whole of Europe.
Today, this industrial system continues to be strongly differentiated, with the presence in each of these three areas of leading companies, such as Rossi and Marzotto in Valdagno, and Loro Piana and Zegna in Biella. These are supported by hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises, often specialised in single processing phases, such as combing or carding of the precious raw material, or dying or finishing, or in niche areas, often aimed at the higher ends of the market. This has made it possible to create the scale economies necessary for keeping Italian products extremely competitive not only in terms of quality and design, but also in terms of cost.

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