Excerpted from The Chinese Workers Who Assemble Designer Bags in Tuscany by D.T. Max in the April 16, 2018 issue of the New Yorker Magazine.
This article traces the history of Chinese immigrants in the industrial zone around Prato, Italy, an area known for its artisans in the textile and leather industry. Chinese immigrants, mostly from Wenzhou (south of Shanghai) began arriving in the 1990s, seeking better wages. Some came with tourist visas and simply stayed on, while others paid smugglers large sums to get in. They found jobs in the area’s mills and workshops that made clothes and leather goods for the top fashion houses. In contrast to native Italians who were used to shorter work hours, long vacations and generous leaves, the Chinese were willing to work long hours. In the beginning they worked through subcontractors, but soon they began to set up shops and contract for work with labels such as Guess, American Eagle Outfitters, Gucci, Prada, and other luxury houses by themselves. Some of these accessories and handbags, bearing the labels ‘Made in Italy’ were actually sold back to the wealthy Chinese in Shanghai and Beijing.
Currently there are about 20,000 (roughly 10%) legal Chinese immigrants in Prato, with possible another 10,000 illegal Chinese residents. Next to Paris, Prato probably has the highest population of Chinese in Europe. Many native Italian artisans resent the presence of the Chinese, saying that “They copy, they imitate. They don’t do anything original. They are like monkeys.” There is, however, also reluctant respect for the success of the hard working Chinese who contributed seven hundred million euros to Prato’s local economy in 2015.
Since the 1990s the per capita income in Wenzhou has risen about a hundred fold. As a result there are no longer many Chinese coming to Prato, and some Chinese in Prato have actually begun returning to Wenzhou.
This interesting article profiles several Chinese Italians (not yet an official term), with first names such as Luigi or Arturo, and some second generation Chinese who were born and raised in Prato. It traces their complex interactions with the local Italian community, and the rapid changes that are taking place among the Chinese community in Prato.
To read the entire article, please visit: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/16/the-chinese-workers-who-assemble-designer-bags-in-tuscany