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Chinese migrants make a future in Italy

By WANG MINGJIE and DJ CLARK in Prato, Italy | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-29 09:50

The idyllic countryside of Qingtian county, near Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang province, is juxtaposed against the Italian city of Prato, in Tuscany. DJ CLARK/CHINA DAILY

After toiling in garment workshops, newcomers now make a major contribution to local fashion industry

For centuries, Prato has stood as a prominent center of Italian fashion production, nestled within the picturesque region of Tuscany, celebrated for its rich artistic heritage.

However, in the 1990s, this medieval city faced a pressing challenge — a scarcity of labor and an inability to keep pace with the rapid changes in the fashion industry.

Consequently, a wave of Chinese immigrants flocked to the city, answering the call to collaborate with their Italian counterparts in the production of swiftly produced and affordable garments.

Fast fashion or pronto moda

As a result, Prato now boasts one of the largest concentrations of Chinese migrants in Europe, with a staggering one person in four originating in China.

Many of these individuals actively contribute to the realm of "fast fashion", or as it is known in Italian, "Pronto Moda".

One such person is Xu Qiulin, whose journey in Prato back in 1989 when he embarked on a career in fast fashion.

Recounting his modest beginnings, he described his first workshop occupied an estimated area of 150-200 square meters and the space was divided into five or six rooms, each equipped with around five or six sewing machines, sometimes even a dozen. "I had a team of two or three workers, and I actively participated in material sourcing and assisting them with their tasks," he said. "Communication posed a challenge due to my limited proficiency in the Italian language."

"When I first arrived, there were very few Chinese, only about five to six hundred. However, the Chinese population has now reached 50,000."

His story highlights the significant growth of the Chinese community in Prato over the years.

Xu acknowledged that during the first decade after his arrival, even with his own workshop, he often felt like he was working for the Italians, with meager profits to show for it.

In 2000, he ventured beyond the fast fashion industry and established a mid-range clothing company called Giupel, which does some of its own designs.

Over time, the Chinese community in Prato has also experienced a notable transformation, embracing the entrepreneurial spirit of their hometown, Wenzhou, a city in East China's Zhejiang province while making their own path.

With a strong desire to become independent and a natural inclination toward innovation, they have defining strengths.

Wang Zengli, another Chinese business owner in Prato, said: "Wenzhou people are very smart. After working in the Italian factories for a while, they realized it wasn't difficult to operate such factories.

"Gradually, between 2000 and 2006, they all became their own bosses. Fast fashion reached its peak between 2005 and 2010. Almost the whole of Europe flocked here to place their orders."

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