October 13, 2018 by Ville Raivio
The superb New Yorker magazine sent its investigative journalist to Prato, Italy, to find out about a nasty phenomenon. The lengthy piece published in NY’s April issue sheds light on an ugly business concerning the coveted, revered Made in Italy-label. Dozens and hundreds of Chinese-migrant workshops as well as factories have sprung up in Prato since the 1990s. In most of them, the rights of the workers are trampled and taxes are avoided with abandon. In practice, this roulette of abuse turns in a similar vein of which Roberto Saviano reported in his excellent, horrifying book, Gomorrah. Large fashion giants, such as Gucci or Dolce&Gabbana or Fendi, want an X-amount of products. They deal out this commission to a sub-contractor that can offer the highest quality with the lowest price. The shop that wins the deal may sub-contract several stages in its production, or the whole process, and darken the origin completely under several layers. If abuse comes to light, the fashion house itself may just say that their contract is with the original subcontractor.
The main reason under all of this is, of course, maximising profits ever bigger and the magic of the Made in Italy-label. The problems of abuse cannot be escaped by favouring handmade, pricey garments as New York Times, in turn, reported last month about the exploitation of seamstresses. In Bari, in the boot heel of Italy, sub-contracted seamstresses are paid a measly few dimes per hour and their jobs have no security or benefits. The region simply has not enough jobs, so housewives take what they can. The roulette keeps spinning everywhere.
If the morale of the Italian garment industry also represents the country’s general morale, Italy’s poor economic state, tax avoidance, youth unemployment, shattering infrastructure and societal woes are self-earned. For the man in search of a moral Italian garment the only solution in to favour artisans or makers that own their own means of production. In larger scale, these are the likes of Isaia, Brioni, Kiton, and in smaller scale private workshops. Fashion houses, in turn, keep sub-contracting and creating more bad than good.