"For most European producers the 90s were a difficult decade. However for us they were years of continued progress," says Giorgio Ricceri, a member of the founding family and current president of the Prato-based Lanficio Luigi Ricceri company.

From l993 to the end of the first six months of the current year, turnover at Ricceri rose from six million euros a year to over l4 million. More than half was contributed by increased export sales, particularly to Germany, Japan and the USA. Mr Ricceri is now confident forecast that by the end of this year turnover will have topped a record 23 million euros.

"We have achieved this advance primarily by re-investment in plant and machinery to bring production to state-of-the-art standards with particular emphasis on new finishing techniques and specialist treatment facilities," he said.

The latest development is a new, 4,000 square metre production unit due to come commercially on stream in early 2002.

By Sonia Roberts.