‘Made in Italy’ has become a synonym for the timeless elegance, distinctive style and arresting glamour that embodies Italian fashion. This Italian fashion, over the years, has been a promise of high-quality products and traditional craftsmanship.
Labelling, which distinctly spells out the country where the apparel or for that matter any product is produced, has long been a hallmark of quality. And it is this ‘Made in’ labelling that’s played a major role in helping the fashion brands of Italy or the watchmakers of Switzerland attain reputation worldwide for their high standards. With time, quality parameters too have changed and today, a ‘Made in Italy’ or a ‘Made in USA’ label is also a yardstick of safety, working conditions and wage standards under which a particular apparel or a product is manufactured. But not always is the connotation, true!
Italy’s love affair with China
With mass market dominating a majority of the global market share, even a ‘Made-in-Italy’ brand finds it difficult to survive. However, one country that has emerged as a big buyer for the ‘Made in Italy’ product is China. The unquenchable thirst that Chinese have for luxury apparels or bags has made many Italian companies consider China as a market that will help them survive and, importantly, succeed. And when that mutual fascination brought the Chinese to Italy (especially Prato) in 1990s, they soon transformed the city into a ‘mini China’ where one could find hordes of apparel firms and textile mills making clothes for Italian brands – small and big. As the new millennium started, Chinese businesses in Prato ranged from fabric dyers, fabric tailors and fashion designers to garment manufacturers and wholesaler distributors of finished products.
If there are companies that produce their own collections internally, there are quite a few Italian laboratories – with which jeanswear and sportswear brands are working closely – that are no longer run by Italian entrepreneurs and workers. In fact, many old Italian laboratories have been replaced with Chinese ones mainly owing to their highly profitable price-quality ratio and for their wide reach. In fact, the only laboratories that are run by Italians and have survived are now collaborating with high-end designer brands.
Notably, as many as 50,000 Chinese live and work in the area, making clothes bearing the prized ‘Made in Italy’ label which sets them apart from apparels produced in China itself, even at the lower end of the fashion business. Prato, the historical capital of Italy’s textile business, has attracted the largest concentration of Chinese-run industry in Europe within less than 20 years. Also, it is believed to have more than 4,000 Chinese-run apparel factories. What’s notable is that the trucks of Chinese firms in Italy ferry apparels to shoppers in major European markets in just 1 or 2 days, unlike in China, where it takes 40 days or more to ship their output by sea to Europe.
More on the same, Alessandro Marchesi, CEO, Compagnia del Denim, says, “Despite all this, Chinese laboratories have learnt significant skills and knowledge by staying connected with the Italian textile sector and reached important quality levels. If they had had gone back to China many small-medium size Italian companies would have not been able to reopen in contexts as the present one. For this reason, Italian-based laboratories and manufacturers are still a guarantee of good quality Italian products.” Compagnia del Denim is the company behind ‘Two Men Two Women’.
Claudio Marenzi, President, Confindutria moda, further adds, “We are talking about reshoring, with peaks especially after the Chinese emergency, not only for a factor linked to the availability of production sourcing, but also to improve lead time, that is delivery times. However, the reflection must be kept in mind that some production steps in Italy no longer exist because they have been decentralised over the years and therefore we would not even have the skills in the short term.”
China manufacturing also an option for ‘Made in Italy’
Not only is the local manufacturing in the hands of Chinese, but a lot of Italian brands get made in China mainly because of the fact that cost is lower and labour is easily available, and that’s one of the reasons why it is so difficult for many Italian brands to isolate China, especially for bigger quantities. Jessica Moloney, a London-born brand consultant and agent for importers says, “If you have 3 to 6 months to wait and you need 500 to 1,000 pieces, then you go to China. But, if you have only 2 weeks and need 100 pieces, then you come to Prato, Italy.”
Many apparel firms and brands in Italy find it too good an opportunity to miss. The general feeling is why not manufacture in China, when the apparels are still going to be designed in Milan, Florence or Venice – thereby justifying the ‘Made in Italy’ tag despite it being made in China. There was a law in Italy at the start of the last decade that clearly stated that if at least two steps of the manufacturing process took place in Italy, it was good enough to earn ‘Made in Italy’ label, but for many apparel companies in Italy – whether one likes it or not – making profits have been priority over many other factors. If a luxury dress costs US $ 2,200 in Italy, then the original production cost could be somewhere around US $ 300 or US $ 200 or maybe even less. The majority of the balance is the profit earned by the company. To put it simply, if your piece of luxury dress or luxury bag is not made by an Italian, then it is not ‘Made in Italy’.