Made in Italy is a complicated subject. It is often just a label for us consumers, but for the producers, makers and artisans it is so much more.
Italy is famous for its exceptional food. Most of us love pasta and pizza, and if it has an Italian name or a chef next to it, then it tastes even better. Italy is not just exporting recipes – food is in the top 10 exported goods from the country.
And the list of those foods is endless. We all know impressive Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, alluring Italian wines, wonderful virgin olive oil and so on. Many of them have alternatives from other countries but people to pay a premium if it has Italian heritage attached to it.
With this global demand also come the challenges like unauthorized use of 'Italian' and fraudulent food heritage claims. There are certain regulations at Italian and European Union level to protect it.
For Italian wine, for example, it is stated that winemaking has to take place in Italy and makers cannot use imported grapes. Such requirements might seem obvious to us, but it is very common to source raw materials from cheaper sources from the supply chain point of view.
In terms of Italian names, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese brand is limited to the Parmigiano region and is endorsed by local certification. If your local cheese maker decides to follow the making process and matures the same cheese, it will have to be called something else. It is essentially the same as with 'champagne' name given only to makers of the sparkling wine in the Champagne valley.
It is interesting to note that it is not always compulsory to state the origin of the food. In Europe, for example, it is a law to clarify the origin of the product with the label if the statement is implying that the food is Italian. In the USA, however, (FTC) Federal Trade Commission standards do not require that. Hence, the USA-based producers might imply that their produce is Italian, with no need to back up such claim.
For Italian consumer goods definition is less straightforward. It gets complicated when the things we buy have many components in them. Then supply lines have to be widened from the local cowhide producer to also include a magnetic clip maker in Taiwan or a new innovative waterproof zipper start-up from Germany. Or what if the leather is Italian, but stitching together is done in Romania (Italian closest neighbour with similar language) – can it still be called an Italian product? And what happens if the designer is sitting somewhere on the beach in Australia, but his designs are made in an Italian factory?
By law there are two legal frameworks defining “Made in Italy” label:
First, European Common Policy law that requires the “clear indication in evident characters of the country or place of manufacture” and “to avoid any error on the actual source” (signed in 1958).
Second, the ‘Decreto Competitivita’ issued by the Italian parliament in 2005, which elaborates more on the issue of fakes and replicas. Where companies can be fined up to 20 thousand Euros, and liable for up to two years in jail.
In simple terms, it is widely accepted that the significant and last manufacturing steps have to be done in Italy. In this way, innovative or unique parts can be used in Italian made products without losing the “Made in Italy” claim.
For example, the handle for your Louis Vuitton bag can be made in China, but as long as it is all assembled in Italy it is accepted. Such definition is further endorsed by a recent ruling from The Italian Supreme Court who also clarified that ‘origin’ does not refer to the provenance of a specific geographical location, but to the provenance of the specific manufacturer which guarantees the quality control and traditional manufacturing processes.
For those, who prefer to know that entire manufacturing was done in Italy there is also a solution – a “100% made in Italy” label.
Backed by a new law that was issued in 2009, the Italian government is encouraging full production and manufacturing cycle to be done in Italy.
According to this law “it is considered as entirely made in Italy the product or merchandise whose design, engineering, processing and packaging are completed exclusively on the Italian territory”.
Such products now can now legally use the following labels:
“100% made in Italy”, “100% Italy” and “all Italian”.
For some shoppers and makers, this might sound a bit excessive and restricting. It could slow down innovation or application of the latest materials or functionalities. But it also can be explained, especially if you read the case below.
It is quite an eye-opener when you read research papers on what type of businesses operate and benefit from ‘Made in Italy’ brand.
I personally recommend The Brand Made in Italy: Critical Analysis. They have done an in-depth academic analysis on potential issues with 'made in Italy' brand. It gives an example of a clothing-textile industry in the Prato region, where a lot of Chinese entrepreneurs and companies set up their production lines. To keep the costs low most of the raw materials would be imported from China and once assembled in Italy exported worldwide with a ‘made in Italy’ label.
Some researchers pointed out to as much as 80% of clothing production in this region is now controlled by Chinese enterprises. They also argue that such products do not benefit Italian artisans, skills or heritage. In fact, with a reduction in the quality of products exported by such companies, it hurts Italy as a brand.
As a consumer, we can anticipate that and do your research when buying Italian clothing. A quick research on the brand can reveal if it was created recently of has a long-standing history. Also, I find that buying directly from the small makers gives guarantees, authenticity and story I crave.
It is quite common to see ‘designed in Italy’ by tapping into Italian design image. I would not necessarily see this as cheating – at the end of the day, even Apple does it with its ‘designed in California’ statement. It still taps into Italian skills, just in this case those innovative Italians work with their creative brain instead of just hands.
But some of the other tricks are more misleading. Coffee makers would be a good example.
Stove coffee pot becomes ‘Italian stove coffee pot’, although it has been produced elsewhere and never even been in Italy.
It works on buyers but also it tricks search engines too. So if you search for ‘Italian coffee maker’ on Google or Amazon this product would also come up:
But again, as long as you did not intentionally look to buy a coffee-maker from Italy, then it is not a problem.
Other sellers trick search algorithms and get an excuse to use actual words ‘made in Italy’ by using some Italian parts.
It is part of the battle Italian artisans, makers and associations trying to fight. But essentially it is life. There are shadier traders in every business, in every country. The best we can deal with this by educating ourselves do we do not get taken for fools.
Imitation is the best form of flattery – Oscar Wilde
Statistically ‘made in Italy’ is the most faked industry out of all. Since the demand for Italian made products is ever increasing, it only makes sense that there are traders who want to benefit from it.
It was hilarious to see ‘made in Italy’ T-shirts in a street market in India, or ‘made in Italy’ Moka Coffe maker on Ali Express.
These are obvious fakes and people do willingly buy them if they are after a bargain and have no concern about the quality.
I do feel peeved for those makers who enter global logistic chains by misleading practices and appear in reputable shops as genuine products. Those are hard to spot, and we might end up disappointed with the poor item at the premium price.
Replicas are an unavoidable part of our life these days. Hence I do like to visit those Italian leather workshops if I go to Tuscany and buy directly there. Such items are impossible to fake.
Since many of us cannot go to Italy, you can also look for Etsy shops where Italian makers sell directly, but there you might need to be a little more careful though.
Products can be called “made in Italy” if the main manufacturing processes and the last assembly took place in Italy.
If you are looking for a more authentic product you can also find “100% made in Italy” products which from design and materials to packaging are Italian and done in Italy.
It is important to do your research and to check if your Italian product is not fake though.
There are many variations of cheating taking place on the large scale. The law and commercial unions are trying to fight back. But, if you want to enjoy the Italian craftsmanship, you can also do your bit by not being fooled by the ‘bad boys’.
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