Made in Italy at Chinese prices [Spiegel Online]

Made in Italy at Chinese prices
Spiegel Online just published a fascinating story about how the Chinese are infiltrating the Italian fashion industry, right here in Italy!

The backdrop is Prato, a small Italian city of 180,000 with 25,000 Chinese workers and 2,000 Chinese entrepreneurs, who own a quarter of the city’s textile businesses.

I repost it on Putting People First not because it has much to do with user-centred design, but because it is economic innovation happening in my backyard. And while these Chinese create growth and employment, they are not embraced by Italians but viewed with fear.

“The city has become the scene of a clash between two cultures: the young, dynamic Chinese, who are willing to take risks and unafraid of being taken advantage of to further their own goals, and the Italians, who allow themselves to be intimidated and worry that Prato could soon spin out of control unless the Chinese and their companies are forcibly legalized. Prato is now a setting for globalization’s next step. The first was when China took away Europe’s jobs, and in the second they are now conquering the cities of the old continent.”

In fact, this is not just an Italian story. It is all about globalisation and how Europe reacts to it.

How to get a population, which is ageing more every year, to focus on this new Europe, and how to stop them fighting the battles of the past?

All those working on innovation in Europe, should be aware that entrepreneurship comes from a radical cultural mindset, which the Chinese seem to have, and many Europeans not anymore.

However — from what I can see here in Italy — there is a young generation of political leaders, who are working hard and quietly behind the scenes to create a new vision for the future. The policies and strategies may be communicated by politicians who are over 60, but the hard work is often done by those under 40. It is happening here in Italy in the office of prime minister Romano Prodi, where a dynamic think tank under the leadership of the up and coming Enrico Letta is developing visions for the future of Italy. The same is happening in the regions and the cities: young people are starting to drive the ideas. These are people who have travelled the world, speak languages, and are extremely well-read and well-informed. They are also highly committed, working long hours because of a vision they believe in. I have worked with some of them and support them wherever I can. In the end, I am confident about Italy because of these young people.

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  1. There was a documentary on similar story aired in NL about 2 years ago before China signed WTO.

    Imagine there is 1.3 billions chinese in a country that has huge wealth distrubtions problems. If you understand the Chinese language, you will find that they are in Europe because here is where the money is good. They do not come to Europe because they like Europe. They are here for economical reasons. And if ONLY you understand Chinese … you will hear a lot more things that you would not want to know.

    NOW, if they do come here because they like Europe, and therefore is willing to integrate with the local, would there be so much problems with the local? And why is there 25,000 Chinese in a place with 180,000 local populations? What kind of work permits these Chinese have that allow them to be there? Are they legal or most of them illegal? There are so many questions that need answers.

    We have to look at problems from both sides. If you speak Chinese you would understand there are so many illegal things that are going on within the Chinese communities. Not just in Italy, everywhere in Europe. Someone I know ‘purchased’ a residential permit issued by Greece. This same person paid a lumpsom to have that piece of paper, and then every month 100 euro to a certain contact in Greece for tax purpose. YET this person actually works in NL. The reason why this person is in NL? — better money. During our conversations, Italy is a bad place to be. Low pay.

    What kind of innovation are we talking about? I also find that politicians are using aging as an excuse for their own inabilities to resolve the problems. These politicians should understand what it means to bring in thousands of inhabitants to their country with language, cultures, life-style etc. differences.

  2. Thanks Cindy for your comments. My reflection was more about a rapidly changing Europe, and a population that is mostly unprepared for these changes, than about the Chinese immigration as such (which as the article points out has its own social and legal problems). Indeed, what kind of innovation are we talking about?