CIVITAVNOVE MARCHE, ITALY - 28 NOVEMBER 2019: Cesare Catini (81), a former shoemaking entrepreneur, poses for a portrait in Civitanove Marche, Italy, on November 28th 2019. At 12, he left school and began working with his uncle making shoes. In 1961, when Mr. Catini was only 22, he launched his own business, making women’s shoes in a small garage at his home. By the 1980s, they had hired a designer from Milan and were buying advertisements in the Italian edition of Vogue magazine. In 2001, China secured entry to the World Trade Organization, opening markets to its exports. That year, Italian footwear manufacturers exported 354 million pairs of shoes. By 2018, that number had plunged to 203 million, a drop of more than 40 percent.
Over the same period, China displaced Italy as Germany’s largest source of shoes. By 2017, China was selling $3.7 billion worth of footwear to Germany, according to the World Bank, nearly triple Italy’s sales. Mr. Catini’s sales and production were down by 80 percent by 2005. He shut it down in 2008, throwing 70 people out of work, unable to compete with China.
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.