Op-Ed | “Made in Italy”, what does it really mean?

We’ve all seen items stamped ‘Made in Italy’ and presumed they were…but not so fast. Here are some points that consumers should take into consideration when making their purchases.

Patricia Jurewicz directs the Responsible Sourcing Network, an organization that advocates for more transparency in supply chains. She says, “It's extremely difficult to understand what companies are doing and how they have their products manufactured.”

In the U.S., there are some laws covering this. The “last substantial transformation” of a product must happen in the country of origin. Guillermo Jimenez of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York says that phrase can be stretched pretty far. "If you have the handle of a leather bag come from South America, and the leather panels come from India, and another part comes from another country, well none of that is a leather bag yet, but put all those pieces together in Italy, presto you have an Italian bag. “That's legally allowable,” Jimenez says, “but arguably can be deceptive to the consumer.” The only way to know for sure how a bag or any article of clothing is made is to visit the company factories  because the U.S. customs and the Federal Trade Commission don't have the resources to keep tabs on all of them. “With the dizzying number of handbag and clothing companies in the world, it's hard for the FTC to stay on top of it.” In fact, the trade commission hasn't brought a case against a fashion company for violating country of origin laws in over a decade. 1

The country of origin label is a powerful brand for Italy and it should be a symbol of craftsmanship and prestige. Showing the label brings in boatloads of cash to the big brands that have established supply chain resources outside of Italy, and are able to bring back their goods and meet the minimum requirement to be compliant for the ‘made in Italy’ label. This allows the company to earn substantially more margin for their collections and still be able to market themselves as Italian.

Italians consider their 'made in' label a national economic resource and many would like to protect that brand with a stricter definition. The people most affected from offshore manufacturing have been the Italian artisan factories and workers whose livelihood has lost out to lower production facility costs abroad. By bypassing the traditional meaning of the ‘Made in Italy’ label, a generation of trades people have lost their businesses and jobs in the luxury manufacturing industry to the big brand supply chains in Eastern Europe, North Africa and Asia. It happened in the 70’s-80 with cars in America and it happened in Italy with fashion at the turn of the century.

Yet times are changing and consumers are starting to ask questions and sharing it on social media. Their findings reveal that luxury brand marketing promises of ‘made in Italy’ are often largely untrue or disproportionate to the price value equation.

Typically speaking, ‘made in’ has been a matter of regulation and labeling, on the one hand, and exposing the ‘hidden’ truths of complex global supply chains, on the other. Where once it was possible to conceal where and how things are made, now digitally connected consumers are able to more easily discover and expose false origin claims or organizations that fail to live up to ethical and safety standards of how they manufacture.”2

1 Marketplace.org “Made in Italy may not mean what you think it does”, Sam Harnett Sept. 2014.

2 Op-Ed | The Brand Power of ‘Made in’, Tom Adams June. 2015.

 

 

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