In an article published Saturday, the New York Times dares to ask, "Is Italy Too Italian?" Meaning, is Italy's focus on artisanal craftsmanship depriving its economy of opportunities for much-needed growth?
To illustrate his point, Times reporter David Segal profiles Luciano Barbera, proprietor of the Carlo Barbera mill, a source of high-end wool and cashmere for designers like Armani, Zegna and Ralph Lauren, and a line of bespoke suits produced under his own name. Although known for its craftmanship and performance, demand for the mill's product has decreased steadily.
Segal describes Barbera's competition: "At roughly 41 euros a meter ($48.75 a yard), the average price of the fabric that the Carlo Barbera factory produces today is almost double that of competitors in Biella, a town in the foothills of the Alps that has been renowned for centuries as a textiles hub. The problem is that fewer designers have been willing to pay this premium, and factories in other countries have been copying the Barberas’ methods, with results that may not be as good but that cost a small fraction of the price."
Click here to view a slideshow with images of Barbera's factory and family.
Notes Segal about Italian businesses like Barbera's, "The first goal of many entrepreneurs here isn’t growth, so much as keeping the business in the family. For a company to really expand, it needs capital, but that means giving up at least some control. So thousands of companies here remain stubbornly small — all of which means Italy is a haven for artisans but is in a lousy position to play the global domination game."
The article also highlights how tradition, guilds and unions have created a protectionist atmosphere in which it is hard for businesses to grow. “I know that in the States, all Mediterranean countries get lumped together,” Carlo Altomonte, an economist with Bocconi University in Milan,is quoted as saying. “But Italy’s problem isn’t that we have a lot of debt. It’s that we don’t grow.”
Click here to read the article in full.
What do you think?