THE BLOG
02/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

(No Longer) Made in Italy

Once upon a time (my source indicates the end of the '90s), in a single medium-size clothing factory in Italy worked an average of 300 tailors.

Now in the entire region of Lombardy (whose main city is Milan, capital of Italian fashion) you can count only 400 of them in total. Where did they go? I'm not sure. But I know for sure that a 60-year old tailor, with a lifetime of experience cutting and sawing garments, makes €1,000 a month in a medium respectable (and here nameless) company in Milan. I know that in Italy, stipends are smaller than in the U.S., because life costs less. (Actually, it depends where you live, because Milan can be pretty expensive!)

Could Italian fashion designers better protect their workers? Where are the Unions? If that tailor was paid more, maybe that would attract more young men and women, creating jobs and saving a tradition that is fading by the year.

The result is that now, when you go to buy a garment by famous brands (I mean Versace famous) you buy the sport line, the cheaper and more casual line that sells in these recession days. These sports lines are no longer made in Italy: "Made in Romania," the label said. Please mind that I'm very happy for the tailors of Romania. But I feel so sorry for the Italian ones... maybe I shouldn't: a good tailor is a good tailor everywhere. But where is "Made in Italy" now?

A friend of mine who lives in Prato (a small center near Florence and core of the production of Italian fabric) reports that nearly every fabric factory is now owned by Chinese companies... will they be as careful to details, as willing to strive to make a quality product? I really hope so. But my real question is: why did the fine people of Prato sell their factories? Why wasn't Prato considered a treasure of Italy as the Sistine Chapel or authentic parmesan cheese? And why do Italian clothing companies pay their experienced tailors so little?

Once again I think about how little we Italians care about our country. I'm not talking about the blind "pride" that often becomes nationalism, but that healthy awareness of what made Italy a country visited by millions of tourists. It is not only our history, our climate, our food. Our governments (plural since they change almost as fast as fashion dos and don'ts) should have protected our precious and now destined-to-be-extinct "Made in Italy" tradition. The Italian government should have protected or raised tailors' pay, it should have helped our artisans better and should have instilled into people a love for our country that Italians never had.

Italians may only now wake up (with a dangerous after-taste of racism), realizing that they lost the opportunity to keep potentially high-paid jobs and priceless experience in their hands, instead of sacrificing them on the altar of mass-production. What to do? I think the process is irreversible and hand-made. Artisan production will become a rare and expensive luxury.

My suggestion is to buy vintage: maybe you will come across one of those pieces of clothing that a then-30-year-old tailor was making for much less than she deserved.