Italy Isn’t Worried About Competition From A “Made in the USA” Renaissance

Brunello Cucinelli

As American clothing production experiences a resurgence, with labels seeking domestically-made fabrics and touting their U.S.-based manufacturing, Italy, which has never experienced the outsourcing problem on the level of America’s issue, isn’t worried about the revival of American heritage fashion.  After all, theirs never went away.

With factory safety in low-cost manufacturing havens like Bangladesh and Cambodia deservedly under deep scrutiny, Italy’s longstanding status as the ne plus ultra for craftsmanship is now being touted alongside its safe working conditions and emphasis on artisans’ training.  Francesco Pesci, the CEO of Brioni, told WWD that he isn’t worried about a challenge from America’s newly rediscovered fashion roots, because neither the training history and traditions, nor the verticals — domestic production from buttons to final construction — are there the way they are in Italy.  He might be right.

With high unemployment and a younger generation surging out of the country, Italy’s fashion industry reacted by opening more fashion schools, to prepare a higher, and therefore more appealing, level of artisans.  We have yet to see anything like that in the U.S., where unemployment isn’t exactly approaching zero, either.  Furthermore, it’s the Italian labels themselves who are investing in their country’s youth.  Designers have been known to open the schools, as Brunello Cucinelli did in Solomeo.  There’s no tuition for students at his label’s School of Crafts — they actually earn a $1,000 a month to be there.

Even if the U.S. doesn’t start paying its students to learn how to make clothes in an elevated way, to catch up at all, we’d need to see an investment from designers themselves in their future artisans.  While brands like 3X1, for instance, make a tremendous effort to work with U.S. mills and fabricate clothing at home, they admit the big problem is difficulty finding trained workers necessary to execute the level of quality they’ve built their brand on producing domestically.  No wonder Italian fashion execs aren’t concerned — while the “Made in America” resurgence has its heart in the right place, there’s a way to go before the brass tacks of what that actually entails are caught up.