Italy's fashion brands have Chinese connection

Immigrants from Wenzhou collaborate with local counterparts to transform clothing business

By WANG MINGJIE and DJ CLARK in Prato, Italy | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-01-30 10:01
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The idyllic countryside in Qingtian county, near Wenzhou in Zhejiang province. DJ CLARK/CHINA DAILY

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

However, in the 1990s, this medieval city faced a pressing challenge — scarcity of labor and 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 for swiftly producing affordable garments.

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

Many of them actively contribute to the realm of "fast fashion", or as it is known in Italian, pronto moda.

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

Recounting his modest beginnings, Xu said his first workshop occupied an estimated area of 150-200 square meters in the city, 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 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.

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