Friday, March 23

Made in Italy: A dying breed?

Walking down Rome's main shopping artery, I was struck by the signs plastered in the window of one tiny menswear shop, David Hamilton.  Perhaps named after the proprietor, or perhaps after the sort of Martin Luther King of the Virgin Islands, David Hamilton Jackson, I stopped to look.  Here there was, one person's response to the Chinese invasion of cheap imports which have now come to occupy every main shopping street across all of Europe (not to mention the gaudy tourist open market stalls and the stalls lining Assisi, Venice & other once fine Italian gift shops).  Looking for boots this winter in Paris, I could not, for the life of me, find one pair of boots that I hadn't already seen in the windows of three dozen identical shops just down the road, all at the same ridiculously low price.  I finally bought my Spanish-made boots in Barcelona.
Our hapless Colonello Budino (that's Colonel Custard in English), surrounded on all sides by the enemy, did not yet raise the white flag.  His white signs instead read:
This same shirt costs only €9 at Rome's Termini Station
These same shoes you can buy for a song just down the road.
He went on to inform us how the items in his store were all proudly Made in Italy.  And we consumers should all support the brand (especially if we want clothes that won't rip apart at the seams after six washings).  I thought this was a brilliant initiative at least from one conscientious retailer.  
Tourists flock to the all-Italians cashmere stores in Umbria, head to the tailor's for hand-made cotton shirts or linens, so...why not promote the quality of locally made clothes and keep the local producers in business?
Of course, this ignores the fact that many of Hamilton's peers in the rag trade have long ago moved production over to Bangladesh, Turkey or China.  Lending credence to the word "rag", which your Fendi sheets and fine silk lingerie, or Max Mara macks will look like in just over a season. 
The big names go abroad while the tiny leather producers have sold out their own children to make a quick buck: They send their kids over to China to teach our Chinese overlords how to make fine Florentine leather bags and Murano glass objects.  Sometimes, it's the Chinese who come here.  Set foot in Prato and you'll see what I mean.  Sadly, these kids will be the last of their long family line to work in the artisan trade.
If that's not enough, many manufacturers boast their Made in Italy claim to fame.  But they have merely applied the last few stitches on their items in Italy, you know, the ones that attach the label Made in Italy to the garment itself.

With bright yellow flyers distributed outside his front door, David Hamilton goes on to implore the last battle cry: 
Before buying, always ask where your article came from.  Help keep the Italian companies and small retailers alive.  EVVIVA!  MADE IN ITALY
*And as for my theory about the name coming from David Hamilton Jackson?  These Anglo-named shops sprouted up after the war - adding a sort of international pizzazz to the shopping experience.  But certainly, in marketing-challenged Italy, I never would have thought that they sold Italian clothes there as well.  Nearer the Spanish Steps, you can also find another fine Italian-made menswear store, Jackson.  

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