French women's ready-to-wear companies pin hopes on exports

September 21, 2016 12:57 PM EDT

People walk past a Caroll women's clothing store in Paris, France, September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

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PARIS (Reuters) - French women's ready-to-wear companies will increasingly focus on export markets to boost sales after their home market suffered in the first half of 2016 from Islamist attacks, poor weather and social unrest, sector officials said on Wednesday.

Though better known for high-profile luxury houses, France has also spawned numerous mid-market fashion brands which are increasingly looking beyond France for growth and investors.

"We are mobilising ourselves to expand further on export markets, which are a lifeline in the face of lower consumption at home," said Pierre-Francois Le Louet, the new chairman of the French Women's Ready-To-Wear Federation.(FFPAPF)

First-half sales of women's ready-to-wear garments fell 2.8 percent to 4.9 billion euros ($5.5 billion) in France, their steepest decline since the first half of 2013, while exports rose 1.2 percent to 1.5 billion, data from the federation shows.

Rain and strikes in the spring weighed on consumer spending, and the situation hardly improved over summer.

"July and August were bad with a drop in tourism in Paris and the Riviera after the Nice attacks while warm temperatures did not encourage buying after the summer break," said Francois-Marie Grau, the federation's secretary general.

The federation, whose members include fashion brands such as Zadig & Voltaire, René Derhy, Zapa, Bérénice, Gérard Darel, Anne Fontaine and Cotélac, did not give a forecast for the full year.

Last week, Nicolas Houze, head of French department store group Galeries Lafayette, said the Islamist attacks had put tourists off from coming to France and sales fell nearly 6 percent in its first half to 1.6 billion euros.

The French ready-to-wear sector, which make 35 percent of its sales in exports, has strong ambitions in the United States, its No.2 export market after Italy. Exports to Italy rose 9.8 percent in the first half and 5 percent to the United States.

Sales to China, its No.3 export market, however, tumbled 23.7 percent during the period due to a slowing economy and a government crackdown on lavish gifting.

(Reporting by Pascale Denis; Writing by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Mark Potter)

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