The Italian eyewear industry raised its overall turnover by 8.4 percent in 2001 to e1,836 million, without including inter-company sales of e772 million, according to Anfao, the Italian eyewear industry's association. On the other hand, while sales of sunglasses grew by 25 percent, sales of regular ophthalmic frames dropped by 9.4 percent to e627 million.

Export sales grew by 9 percent to e1,530 million thanks to a 27 percent increase for the sunglass segment, with strong market penetration particularly in the USA and Asia. Exports to the USA grew by 40 percent to e363 million, while sales to Asian markets jumped by 47 percent to e154 million. The negative trend in frame production was reflected in the export performance, with frame sales down by 9 percent. Imports of frames into Italy also lost momentum.

Because of lower tourist traffic, sales to duty-free outlets nearly dried up last year with an estimated drop of around 82 percent, according to Anfao, but they should enjoy a modest recovery this year. The Italian eyewear industry is putting its hopes in Asian markets such as Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. It's looking with particular attention to China, where some130 million individuals are estimated to have now the purchasing power to buy quality eyewear.

The positive overall performance of the Italian industry was, once again, largely that of the ten major companies, who represent 70 percent of national production. The country's 230 medium-sized companies and 1,170 small or very small businesses took the brunt of the slump in the market that followed the Sept. 11 attacks in New York. The vast majority of them either managed to break even or posted losses in 2001. These companies lack distribution operations of their own for their own brands, and they cannot be candidates for licensing any of the major brands. A great deal of their capacity is used up for contract manufacturing in behalf of the major companies. When demand starts to fall, the latter turn the faucet and rely only on their own production facilities.