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The Deceit of 'Made in Italy'

“From the post-World War II era, ‘Made in Italy’ has confirmed itself as a label granting fine quality, authenticity and a sense of style internationally praised”

The label ‘Made in Italy’ has been overused and has become almost synonymous with locally made, making people believe it's high-quality, tied with history, Italian craftsmanship, and savoir-faire. It's meant to represent Italian excellence, in the hopes of making Italy the leader in manufacturing high-quality products.

In reality, what's hidden is the reality of the ‘Made in Italy’ tag: who is actually making these Italian clothes and where?

Most people are overcome with feelings of admiration when they see the ‘Made in Italy’ label, however, today this label is taken advantage of, holding many illegal factories with Chinese immigrants. In the 1950s Italy was booming with Chinese immigration, particularly in Prato. Prato is known for its production of high-quality textiles, housing some of the clothes and leather goods of well-known luxury fashion houses. Following their arrival, however, Chinese businesses started dominating; they did everything from fabric dyeing, tailoring, designing, to manufacturing. In the late 2000s, they even managed around 4,000-5,000 firms in Prato and one out of four companies were Chinese-owned:

During this time, Chinese immigrants would open up their own workshops in small garages (often where they also lived), be paid by piece and off the book. They started working in pronta moda (fast fashion), expanding to mid-level brands like Guess, and more recently becoming manufacturers for luxury brands like Gucci. Although around "20-43%" of Chinese migrant workers were living and working illegally in Prato, authorities wouldn't ask many questions; Italy was struggling financially due to globalization, making the Chinese contribute immensely to their fragile local economy:

What’s ironic is that these expensive handbags and accessories will have the label ‘Made in Italy’ when in reality they were made using inexpensive, exploited Chinese labor. In this way, ‘Made in Italy’ is only taking into account where the production processes are and not the origin of the craftsman. In Prato, Chinese seamstresses would make 0.90€ per dress if they work all night in small workshops and a man can earn up to 500€ if he works all his waking hours. Most end up working 14 hours a day and their workshops usually last only two years, closing then reopening with a different name to evade authorities:

“The stagnant economy allowed for a lack of supervision and factory audits and this was the scene for the beginning of abuse, for allowing the ‘Made in Italy’ tag to thrive internationally at the cost of another’s underpayment, malnourishment and sometimes even, life.”

These human labor abuses don’t go with what we expect from the ‘Made in Italy’ tag. Thankfully, in 2009 a law was passed (Law no.166) to force anything that has a tag saying ‘100% Made in Italy’ or ‘All Italian,’ must have their products made entirely in Italy, from design to packaging. This, however, continues to be abused. The Kering Group was sued in 2017 over their ‘Made in Italy’ claims. Eyewear retailer, Selima Optique, filed a lawsuit against Kering for falsely advertising its eyewear as an Italian export when in reality they outsource part of its production in China. The lawsuit read: “In truth, [Kering’s] products, or substantially all parts of their products, are made in China, and (at best) shipped to Italy for final assembly and packaging, and then exported.” In this way, the label is complicated and can be easily taken advantage of, so there need to be stricter regulations and more research done to find out if a product is actually ‘Made in Italy’ or just packaged there. Italy has rigorous standards and higher production costs than many other countries, and unfortunately with how easily it can be exploited the strong value that the label has can become diluted.

RISA owns up to the truths of the ‘Made in Italy’ label in an attempt to reclaim it into a new, sustainable system that places Italian artisans at the forefront. They try to be as transparent as possible, through their images and videos of artisans making each piece uniquely by hand. As an Italian brand, RISA wants to hold itself accountable and show that all RISA VENEZIA products are fully made in Italy. RISA also wants to aim toward being fully traceable and include blockchain technology to be more transparent and allow the consumer to see their whole supply chain, eventually being able to pay the artisan directly. For now, RISA publishes videos and images of the process it takes to make their products, from conception to the final product.

Be sure to check out these articles to learn more:

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