Italian exports grew in the first half of 2012, except in Europe, and domestic sales were substantially down, though they account for only 20 percent of the total, saving the Italian eyewear industry from more severe damage in the current crisis. This is the overall message from the data communicated by Anfao concerning the results of the Italian eyewear industry in the first half of 2012, compared with the same period last year. At €1,408 million, Italy's exports were up by 5.6 percent, with frames up by 8.1 percent while exports of sunglasses reached half that figure, up by 4.2 percent. Thanks to this performance on its export markets, the Italian eye industry closed the first half with a positive trade balance of over €973 million.

Accounting for slightly more than half of Italy's exports, deliveries to Europe were stagnant with an increase of 0.3 percent, with many European countries hit by the recession. Apart from the hardest hit economies of Greece, Spain and Portugal, even France is now showing the strain, with a second quarter that didn't live up to the promise of the first three months, producing a 1.5 percent fall in exports of Italian eyewear to France for the first half. These poor figures were compensated for by growth of 7.2 percent for Germany, sun and prescription eyewear combined, and 10.1 percent for the U.K.

So with the slowdown in Europe, where did the real growth come from? The answer is from the Americas – including the U.S. – Asia and the emerging countries. Sales of Italian eyewear to the American continent grew by 10.7 percent. Accounting for over a fifth of Italy's total exports, sales to the U.S. were up by 11.3 percent, with 12 percent growth for sunglasses and 9.5 percent for prescription eyewear. The value of Italian eyewear exports to the U.S. totaled over €298 million, which is €30 million more than the January to June 2011 period.

Italy's first-half exports to other geographical sectors were all up, with increases of 12.9 percent for Asia, 7.6 percent for Africa and 14.3 percent for Oceania. The latter two markets are still relatively marginal for the Italian eyewear industry, but both are growing at a steady pace.

The Italian eyewear business is now focusing on the emerging markets, with Brazil up by 27.1 percent, the United Arab Emirates by 12.9 percent, Saudi Arabia by 19.1 percent and South Korea by 21.2 percent. Exports to China were up by a massive 81 percent for the period, clear proof that the Asian giant has become a serious market for the rest of the world.

The domestic market is suffering from the recession that hit economic activity in general, particularly in 2012, reducing the purchasing power of Italian consumers, with GDP down by more than 2 percent. Domestic sales of Italian eyewear producers to retailers in the first half of the year were actually down in value by 8 percent. According to Cirillo Marcolin, chairman of the Italian association of eyewear producers, the difficulties on the domestic market combined with the global economic recession mean that small and large eyewear producers alike need to be looking at every possible opportunity on international markets.