Chinese refashion Italy's textile industry

Chinese manufacturers have moved to Italy and set up garment factories. They excel at making garments fast and cheaply, but some Italian manufacturers are unhappy with their presence.

Italy's renowned textile industry is changing dramatically. Thousands of mainland Chinese are swarming over to an Italian town near Florence called Prato. They have been able to buy premises cheaply from Italian businesses that are going bust.

Approximately 4,000 Chinese-run clothing factories in Prato are turning out one million garments a day. The demand for cheaply made, mass produced clothing or "fast fashion" forces workers in the crowded factories to keep pace.

Chinese entrepreneur Xu Lin, who's long established in Prato, says that without the Chinese, the situation would be far worse.

"The Chinese are buying Italian wool from companies here. The Chinese are also creating employment for Italians as fast fashion is growing," says Xu.

It may puncture local pride that the Chinese are producing fashion garments faster than the Italians ever could. But driving down prices is only one part of the equation. To the discerning eye, Chinese clothes with the enviable "Made in Italy" label are easily identified as cheap knock-offs of top, catwalk designs.

Lu Chen, a Chinese model who's been living in Milan for five years, says when it comes to fashion design, the Chinese currently lack creativity.

"Lots of Chinese come over to Italy to study design at one of the big fashion schools. But the Chinese are strong only when it comes to copying. I don't feel that they have the same ability as Italians to move fashion forward," says Chen.

Marco Landi is president of the Tuscany branch of trade body CNA, which represents small and medium-sized firms. He and a number of other Italians say the growing number of Chinese millionaires on the mainland could benefit from Italian know-how.

"Chinese buyers need to take on board that the way and quality of life here in Tuscany is the best that there is," he says. "This is reflected in the quality, creativity, inventiveness and detail of our fashion."

The Chinese newcomers have opened up the market in mainland China in a way Italians never could. They've also brought the aspirational "Made in Italy" label to millions who might otherwise be quite happy with their locally-made clothes.

 

About the author

Sylvia Smith is a reporter with the BBC.

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