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DESIGN AND INNOVATION, THE SECRET OF ITALIAN HATS AROUND THE WORLD
The Italian hat industry has a global vocation. It is in constant interaction with various world realities, importing raw materials and semi-finished products, and at the same time, because this is considered a real priority, exports between 60 and 70% of its production. The branch of the textile sector involved in hat production is a constellation of 210 companies, employing about 3,000 people, with two major production centres: one in the Marche, between Fermo and Macerata, and the other in Tuscany. One of the most important features of this vibrant production sector is the fact that it is composed exclusively of small businesses, none of which employ more than 50 workers and most have between 10 and 20.
In 2009, the export value of Italian hats stood at 107 million euros. Particularly positive was the performance of felt hats, which registered an 11.4 percent increase in exports.
According to Paul Marzialetti, president of the hat sector of the Federation of Italian Textile Industries - Tessilivari, two factors explain the success of Italian hats in foreign markets: design and innovation. "These”, he explains, “are the elements that make the difference because the materials (straw, felt, fabric and yarn) are the same for everyone, while, in regard to price, competitors in the Far East enjoy an advantage. It is the ideas and design,” he stresses, “that make the difference and enable Italian-made hats to compete. Without forgetting to consider another important strength of Italian producers: the ability to understand trends quickly, anticipate them and immediately translate new needs into practice.”
The target markets for Italian hats are those of the European Union, particularly France, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom and Belgium, but they are also successful in the United States and Russia, while the former Soviet republics of Central Asia are emerging as exciting new business areas. Other important destinations are Japan and South Korea, "where Italian goods are appreciated even at the level of lesser-known brands due to their own intrinsic value, whereas in China, for example, demand is linked more to well-known labels than to Italian manufacture itself."
The future prospects for the sector are encouraging, despite the global crisis in 2010 which continues to be a variable to deal with, at least financially. "But shifting the analysis from the financial to the productive level”, Marzialetti stresses, “and looking in particular at orders, we estimate that this year will continue to show the upward tendency of 2009, a year marked by recovery after the difficulties experienced in 2007 and 2008. And, of course, as far as exports are concerned, we expect a positive result.”