September 12, 2010

National Affairs

Over the years, Italy learned the difficult lesson that it could no longer compete with China on price. And so, its business class dreamed, Italy would sell quality, not quantity. [...] And then, China came here [to Prato]. Chinese laborers, first a few immigrants, then tens of thousands, began settling in Prato in the late 1980s. They transformed the textile hub into a low-end garment manufacturing capital — enriching many, stoking resentment and prompting recent crackdowns that in turn have brought cries of bigotry and hypocrisy.
Thanks to a fashion production course offered at Ryerson University a few years ago, I've been quite aware of the way fashion merchandise is labeled - and the subtle difference of seeing something that is "Made in France" versus (for example) "Materials Made in France" or "Assembled in France." The labeling of country of manufacture and origin is important for tax and import / export purposes as goods move around the world, but in the last few decades this information has also helped to guide consumers -for better or for worse- to determine the relative quality of their purchase. The assumption of course is that labor and materials are better in European countries with a long and storied history of fashion production, such as Italy and France, compared to goods manufactured in countries such as India and China.
 This New York Times article brings up a new issue that I had never considered or heard about, however. Besides the issues of illegal labourers and dodgy business practices that the article touches on, what intrigues me is the question of what happens to country of origin in the age of globalisation and an increasingly nomadic work force? Does it still make sense for us as manufacturers and consumers to generalize and grade product using these outdated markers of quality that can be so easily manipulated?

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