Where Italy's Family-Run Factories Go From Here
For the ancestral footwear factories that dot Italy's eastern coast, March is one of the busiest months. Not only do these four weeks arrive smackdab in the middle of manufacturers' enormous spring deliveries, they also usher in the lucrative resort season, too. So as the Northern Hemisphere begins its annual defrost, Italy's family-run operations are shuttling their lush silks and buttery insoles across the globe for you to wear all summer long.
Last March was a different story. With a pandemic on the rise, Italy became the first western country to implement a national lockdown. Suddenly, everyday gathering places like restaurants, bars and shops were closed for the foreseeable future — and so were the factories that, in some cases, employ the better part of entire towns. By May, these factories were in real, grave danger of closing for good.
"The real risk is that this network of companies could die," Matteo Pasca, the director of Arsutoria School, a Milan-based institute for design and technical training, told me while in quarantine last spring.
In early May of 2020, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte enacted a gradual plan enabling factories to resume production in phases — and this was when the hard work began. With consumer demand essentially changing overnight, how could manufacturers accordingly pivot their businesses while still celebrating the generational craftsmanship that has made "Made in Italy" what it is today?
It's been nearly a year since I last spoke with Pasca. At the time, his forewarning felt more ominous staring down the rabbit hole of a pandemic than it does now, with a global vaccine rollout in progress. Still, Italy's factories aren't quite out of the woods just yet. They are, however, more resilient — and maybe even better-positioned — than before Covid-19 hit 12 months ago.
This, of course, is excellent news. In Italy, family-run apparel and accessory factories are part of the country's culture. With the majority of operations hiring locally and promoting from within, generations honor the proud tradition of passing their skills onto their children. Their labor isn't something that can be replicated, and to do so, Pasca told me last year, would launch Italy into an economic crisis.
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