PRATO, ITALY - 25 NOVEMBER 2019: A fabric sample from the 1967/1968 Fall/Winter collection of Marini Industrie, a textile company that has survived Chinese competition, is seen here in Prato, Italy, on November 25th 2019. Marini Industrie is one of the few companies in Prato that weren’t hit by Chinese competition, by elevating their quality.
Italy has proved especially vulnerable to China’s emergence as a manufacturing juggernaut, given that many of its artisanal trades -- textiles, leather, shoe-making -- have long been dominated by small, family-run businesses that lacked the scale to compete on price with factories in a nation of 1.4 billion people.
In recent years, four Italian regions that were as late as the 1980s electing Communists and then reliably supported center-left candidates -- Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Emilia-Romagna -- have swung dramatically to the extreme right. Many working class people say that delineation has it backwards: The left abandoned them, not the other way around.
Between 2001 and 2011, Prato’s 6,000 textile companies shrunk to 3,000, and those employed by the plants plunged from 40,000 to 19,000, according to Confindustria, the leading Italian industrial trade association. As Prato’s factories went dark, people began arriving from China - mostly from the coastal city of Wenzhou, famed for its industriousness - to exploit an opportunity.
They set up sewing machines across the concrete floors and imported fabric from factories in China. They sewed clothes, cannily imitating the styles of Italian fashion brands. They affixed a valuable label to their creations: “Made In Italy”.