What does a “Made in Italy” tag mean to you, exactly?
Last weekend, The Guardian published a story that probably didn’t surprise or outrage me as much as its writing and editor were hoping. In it, the reporter visited a secretive factory in Romania owned by equally secretive LVMH subsidiary Somarest and observed the factory’s raison d’être: manufacturing the uppers for Louis Vuitton shoes, which would then be shipped to Italy, joined with their attendant soles and legally labeled “Made in Italy,” meeting the letter (if maybe not the spirit) of European trade laws concerning disclosure of a product’s country of origin.
In order for a product to be legally labeled as made in a particular European locale, “the last, substantial, economically justified processing” step has to take place in that country. For shoes, that’s joining the upper to the sole, which Louis Vuitton does in Italy or France. The components are made elsewhere, including in Romania, as is common throughout the luxury industry.
This isn’t a practice brands like to publicize, but it’s also not exactly a secret. Dana Thomas’s 2007 bestseller Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster documented the process extensively, and in 2017, I think most consumers are pretty well-informed about the fact that much of high-end fashion is fantasy—how the sausage is actually made is a little more complicated. After all, most fashion brands are owned by large, corporate conglomerates, and satisfying investors means cutting costs and growing profits. When you’re in the business of making physical goods for sale, that translates to searching out labor markets with lower wage expectations for workers. Designers want to tell consumers the story of the mom-and-pop shops they started out as, but that kind of operation can’t scale at the rate that global capitalism requires.
In my mind, that’s simply a reality of the industry as it stands today, and as long as I’m happy with the quality of a product I’ve bought relative to the price I’ve paid for it (and as long as the brand’s customer service is exemplary when a product falls below reasonable expectations), it doesn’t bother me too much. That might be because I’ve had a decade in the industry to come to terms with its realities, though, so we want to hear from you: do these kinds of manufacturing processes feel deceptive to you as a shopper, and does knowing about them change where you want to shop?