Latest statistics show Italian manufacturers currently leading league tables of European textile exporters, with annual sales worth some seven billion euros.

The Italians score with high quality, high fashion, and high price goods. In high quality woollens and luxury fibre suitings the Italian clothing industry remains virtually self sufficient, able to obtain most of its fabric needs from home market manufacturers.

Imported raw materials are most usually at the lower end of the price scale. Cotton is a commodity which the Italians buy overseas: 36 per cent from EU members, a further nine per cent from Turkey, and the rest from Asia. Fabric imports from Asia amount to around 30 per cent of the clothing industry's needs.

A growing factor in the Italian industry are fabrics sent abroad for manufacture and then returned as finished garments, either for sale in Italy or as goods for export under the label of the Italian manufacturer who set up the deal.

Poland used to be the major recipient of this traffic but such sub-contracted manufacturing now favours Romania or Tunisia.

By Sonia Roberts.