What do we buy when we buy “Made In Italy?” Every time I visit a factory—whether it is in Italy or China—I’m amazed by the whole production process. To me, it’s beautiful—from the mixing of block acetate to form sheets, through the cutting of frame fronts and temples, shooting the temple core, tumbling, and finally, assembly.
And they’re not that different.
I’ve seen bad eyewear come from Italy and great eyewear come from China. So, what am I really buying when I buy handmade Italian eyewear? To me it’s much of the experience I’ve had when visiting those Italian factories. It’s about being a part of a long history of innovation and culture that takes its time to do things right.
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Sometimes fronts and temples are made in China and stamped “Made in Italy.” That statement alone is shocking to me, and although I’ve heard it mentioned before, it didn’t have the impact on me until I witnessed it. I’m not talking small brands either; I’m talking major international brands that we all know, talk about, and many of you might be selling to your customers every day.
It’s not illegal
According to Italian law, there are no limits on how much of a product must be made in country to earn the mark.1 So, large companies manufacture everything in China, then ship it to Italy for the final assembly. In essence, the Italians place the final screws in each hinge or grind the lenses and install them, and by Italian law, that’s enough.2
It’s legal, so it’s OK, right? Well, herein lies the moral dilemma. We all know the premium we pay for Italian products, we all know what the name means. It means quality, trust, and craftsmanship. We’re paying more knowing their origin. It’s a bait-and-switch tactic, using cheap Chinese labor and the allure of Italian manufacturing,3 and the worst part is we have no idea how many brands/companies are doing it.
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It’s especially frustrating to me because I follow the craft of Italian eyewear manufacturing. I pay a premium to sleep at night, and our frames sit alongside those with morals weaker than our own. And, unfortunately there’s no way to tell the difference to the average wholesale buyer, distributor, or customer. Hell, it’s even hard for us to tell sometimes.