ECONOMY

Greek swimsuits stay afloat, but underwear outstripped by imports

Greek swimsuits have survived the pressures of competition from cheaper Asian imports, but locally made undergarments have not, a sector survey by ICAP has shown. The undergarment market will probably grow by no more than 1 percent in 2005 and 2006, while the swimwear market will expand annually by 2-4 percent, based on the quantities produced. Meanwhile, undergarment and swimwear imports from Asian countries are certain to increase in the coming years. The sector is considered labor-intensive, meaning that labor costs play a crucial part of total production cost. To minimize it, many companies have allocated part or all of their production to third companies, mainly in the Balkans. Companies in Greece have also restructured their production activities and broadened their imports, a trend which is expected to continue in the next two years. Swimwear production remains robust, partly thanks to demand from abroad, to which the bulk of domestic production is channeled. Between 2000 and 2003, it posted an average annual rise of 6.7 percent, but in 2004 it fell slightly by 2 percent, compared with the previous year. Undergarment production lost an average of 3.7 percent every year in 2000-2004. Penetration of imports rose to 29 percent for undergarment and to 51 percent for swimwear. The undergarment market is dominated by briefs for men and women, while women’s swimwear continue to outsell men’s by about four to one. The sector’s main outlets are specialty stores, although their market share has been dropping in recent years. Some sales are made in clothing retail chains as well as in department stores. Big supermarkets have also grabbed a share, creating special sections that sell swimwear and undergarments. Open-air markets have also taken a respectable portion in sales recently, becoming an important outlet for producers.