Quality woollens and luxury fibre yarn and fabric producer Loro Piana has a gloomy view of the coming season's export prospects.

"Japan is currently experiencing its worst slump in a quarter of a century," says Loro Piana's Luciano Bandi. "And as a result the Japanese, traditionally customers who gave quality priority over cost, are now seeking keener pricing, even if this means downtrading on quality.

"Nor does the situation in the States look any easier. The Americans, faced with a dipping stock market and politically uncertain future as the threat of war with Iraq looms ever larger, are cutting back on their buying too. This is adversely affecting sales of both yarns and fabrics - although by contrast the American market for ready made garments is relatively buoyant with the Far East gaining an ever-growing share of the import trade."

At Mariosboselli, however, Michelle Pozzi is much more positive about the immediate future. He sees an international uplift in demand for Italian silks.

"Business in this sector has been at a low ebb for the past 12 months - but on the yarn side the summer 2002 fairs in Paris and Milan indicate a pick up in interest which encompasses both classic designs and innovative qualities.

By Sonia Roberts.