"Made In Italy" Is Italian For "Made In Sweatshops"

That $1,500 Prada bag may have been stitched by an illegal Chinese immigrant slaving away in a Tuscan factory. The tentacles of globalization are starting to snake dirt-cheap foreign laborers into once-protected enclaves known for their quality swag.

According to the L.A. Times, the Sino-Italian job takes three forms:

  • Straight up counterfeiters who slap brand names on cheap knockoffs.
  • Importers who ship shoes and bags from Asia to Italy for an extra buckle and the “Made In Italy” label.
  • Factory owners who use illegal Chinese workers to make nominally Italian goods.

Should a “Made In” label be a straightforward declaration of origin or a broader indicator of quality and craftsmanship?

For the big-name clothing labels, Chinese-staffed workshops provide an important way of keeping costs down by supplying cheaply and quickly made purses, shoes and other products. It helps the fashion houses compete and, many argue, it’s better than the alternative: moving all production offshore.

But for legions of Italian craftsmen and -women who try to maintain painstaking but costly old-style practices, the cheaper Chinese labor is deadly.

“It’s a crazy competition. In fact, you can’t compete,” said Andrea Calistri, whose third-generation family business has been making handbags for top designers from voluptuous leather and buttery suede for more than half a century.

There is nothing wrong with production lines, foreign workers, or competition. We don’t labor under delusions that pricey Italian wares are painstakingly crafted by hand, but that’s exactly what Calistri wants you to think. He has rounded up a posse of 65 businesses that are calling themselves “100% Italian.”

” ‘Made in Italy,’ ” he said, “means tradition, know-how and standards. . . . It means not only made in Italy, but made in the Italian way.”

Yes, the “Italian way,” whatever it is.

The ‘Made in Italy’ label: Read the fine print [L.A. Times]
(AP Photo/Greg Baker)


Edit Your Comment

  1. laserjobs says:

    When every middle class twenty year old with a credit card wants a $1,500 Prada bag, you have to produce them fast and cheap.

  2. satoru says:

    This is pretty standard procedure in the Luxury brand industry. Indeed Louis Vuitton basically makes the 95% of the shell of the bag in China, it’s then shipped to Italy to put on the buckles and zippers. This was mostly done to stem the tide of counterfeits that were streaming out of China. They knew that quality leather working was fairly well established and cheap in China, but the craftsmanship to make high quality metal buckles and zippers was lacking. This bascially made it harder to make the ‘high quality’ knock offs in China. Yes there are various levels of quality of knock offs, ranging from total crap to almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

    Almost every brand you buy is basically made in China and it’s very clear on the label for most brands like Coach, Burberry, etc. A few of the top tier brands do the pseudo-china rebranding.

    I must admit though, I’ve never heard of this new phenomeon where they actually make things in Italy but import cheap Chinese labor to do it. Very interesting. I think it’s similar to the issue in America, where Mexican day workers are used in agriculture. In this industry as well, the growers note that these Mexican day workers are highly efficient and cheaper, than their American counterparts, who we all know are lazy fat slobs :)

  3. misteral says:

    @laserjobs: What I don’t understand is… When you’re selling a bag for $1,500 why do you have to do it on the cheap? OK, Fast I get, and if the “Italian Way” means double or triple the assembly time, then OK I can buy a justification on the time factor. But how much does a $1,500 bag REALLY cost to make in China vs Italy?

  4. SaturnEyes says:

    “Voluptuous” leather and “buttery” suede? Ew! It’s a handbag, not soft-core porn (although, maybe for some, it’s a blurry line).

  5. bohemian says:

    Uh, part of the high price for italian goods was paying the professional craftsperson who did the work. The assumption was that you were paying for quality materials and the expertise and quality of a well trained craftsperson. So these companies have kicked a very good sized wedge out of the pie chart and kept the money for themselves.

    I am really surprised Italy has let this happen since they have some fairly strict standards on certain food products to protect from lower quality fakes.

    The brands doing this risk collapsing on themselves. Most of these brands have already hit the saturation point of not really being luxury any longer. When twenty something office workers are carrying that brand of bag it makes the brand look common to someone who wants to buy it as some sort of symbol of their wealth and exclusivity. Now add to this the chinese knock offs and the growing knowledge that most of these are just made in Italian sweatshops by Chinese workers the brand doesn’t look too special any longer.

    The aspirational shoppers have run out of cash. The real wealthy might not see value in the brand. If I see a Coach or an LV bag I think counterfeit before I think “money”.

  6. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    It also goes for clothing that has a label ‘Made In The Northern Marianas’.
    The Northern Marianas are a US Territory & don’t have any duties applied to clothing made there.
    I’ve read that all of the workers have been brought in from Cambodia.
    The entire enterprise was set up by that Republican crook, Jack Abramoff & his Republican bribe takers in Congress.

  7. You do know that’s a fake LV in the pic, right?

  8. DeltaPurser says:

    A co-worker of mine INSISTS that the Louis Vuitton bag she paid $150 for IS real because she purchased it in China and things are just soooo much cheaper over there. Never mind that the real thing costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000. Any attempt at trying to explain to her that it’s a knock-off is ignored… She refuses to understand that it’s the same bag she could have had for $75 in Chinatown!

  9. MissPeacock says:

    Everyone should read “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster” by Dana Thomas for more on this trend of so-called luxury brands outsourcing their work to cheap laborers.

  10. mike says:

    There is a saying: Fast, cheap, or good quality. You can only have two out of the three.

  11. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @sohmc: I’ll take cheap and good quality. Point me towards the store.

  12. jamar0303 says:

    @sohmc: Except that in this caise it’s more like “none of the three”- it’s not fast (not if you have to ship it to Italy to get some minor detail done after manufacture in China for the “made in Italy label”, it’s not quality (if people can make counterfeits that you can’t tell from the real thing that doesn’t say anything good about your label) and it’s certainly not cheap.

  13. snoop-blog says:

    i don’t understand how you can have cheap, and good quality. wouldn’t that mean it would take longer to make, therefore driving up the price? you would think cheap, and quality, would be demanded faster than it could be supplied. unless were talking cheap for the factory and not the consumer. man now i’m confused.

  14. amoeba says:

    …and that’s why I don’t buy a $1,500 dollars purse. If the hand bag was made [completely] in Italy, it will double or triple the value/cost of the handbag. In my opinion, since these handbags are “mass produced”, those companies must find a cheap way to make them faster for the hungry girls. Since eBay became popular in Utah, I’ve seen many ladies so happy carrying fake LVs, CCs and Pradas. So sad…

  15. meneye says:

    forget luxury nowadays. just shop at target and be done with it.

  16. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:

    I thought stuff made there got a “Made in USA” label?

  17. oneswellfoop says:

    The thing people don’t get is, cheap labor doesn’t necessarily mean unskilled labor. It may not be being made by an Italian whos family has been tailoring for the last 5 generations, but some of these people actually know what they are doing. My Boss buys some fake LV stuff when he goes back to Korea. There, they make or import bags that are high enough quality and good enough copies that LV product testers and examiners can’t tell the difference. The fakes cost a couple hundred if they are at that level, but it sure is cheaper than $1,500.

  18. Snarkysnake says:

    The people that buy this shit know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  19. Buran says:

    Why not do what is done for cars and disclose the percentage of components made in different places? That way you’d see “China: 95%” and “Italy 3%” and Other 2%” or something like that on the label.

  20. Siegeman says:

    I remember reading an article about this about this, it said “luxury” brands use a whole slew of methods to keep the “made in China” labels hidden. These include printing it on the same color as the ink (ex. black on black), putting them inside seams, pockets, etc, or even on a separate part that is latter cut off.

  21. I remember, about a decade or more ago, seeing a story on 60 Minutes about some haute designer of Chinese descent, switching his labels from “Made In China” to “Made By Chinese” to combat the image of cheap, low quality goods that “Made In China” or “Made in Taiwan” had come to mean.

    How about a new global standard for good manufacturers, “Made By X” instead of “Made In X”. Thus, an Italian manufacturer using actual citizens above the board, could market as “Made by Italians” and it’d be your signal that it’s not made by imported slave labor.

    Clearly, location isn’t the be all and end all of manufacturing that it used to be.

  22. TechnoDestructo says:


    What if you have a plant that employs people from all over?

    What if you have a couple hundred people from a dozen countries? Do you have to keep track of who made what item? Do you have to list every single country on the label?

    Oh, and BTW, a lot of Japanese cars are actually made, in part, by Brazilians, in Japan. Just for those who weren’t aware.

  23. ninjatales says:

    Only if the majority of the product manufacturing is done in that country.

    If they want to install the buckle in Italy, it should say “assembled in Italy”

  24. Imaginary_Friend says:


    “They don’t say Hanes, until *I* say they say Hanes.”

  25. chiieddy says:

    @SaturnEyes: It becomes more disturbing when you use those adjectives for shoes.

  26. @TechnoDestructo: In those instances, they get “Made In X”. You only get Made By if you’re employing people who are legal to work and in compliance with some standard of labor laws.

    @Imaginary: Kind of. Only more like as a self adopted marketing thing, and industry self policing. Like ISO 9001 and 140001.

  27. TechnoDestructo says:


    Why do you assume the foreign workers must be illegal?

  28. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Apparently not.
    I have several shirts that have the ‘Northern Marianas’ label in them

  29. dkush21 says:

    First, I am not stupid enough to waste $1,500. on a purse.

  30. Rusted says:

    Great. Another link that requires a subscription……

  31. SayAhh says:

    @PotKettleBlack: Well, you could still cheat the system if you gave those Chinese workers Italian citizenship, because then the bag would REALLY be “made by Italians”…

  32. Hitchcock says:

    You’re not paying for “Craftsmanship”, you are paying for the brand. The margins on “luxury” products are sky high, but volume is generally low.

  33. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @PotKettleBlack: I like your idea; it’s sorta like going to a trusted mechanic who you know won’t screw you over. Although, if it’s going to be industry-policing, the penalties for fraud would have to be an immediate blacklisting and severe fine. Otherwise, you could have competing companies sabotaging each other.

  34. Colleen says:

    This is not surprising in the least.

  35. BugMeNot2 says:

    I support sweatshops, I don’t support the idea of selling bags for 1500 bucks and saying they’re made in countries they’re not.