Italians Wary Of Chinese On Their Turf The Italian town of Prato is home to the largest concentration of Chinese residents in Europe. In this textile center, the Chinese have created a parallel, off-the-books economy — hiring illegal workers and selling items at low prices. As their wealth has grown, Italian resentment has spread.
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'Fast Fashion': Italians Wary Of Chinese On Their Turf

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'Fast Fashion': Italians Wary Of Chinese On Their Turf

'Fast Fashion': Italians Wary Of Chinese On Their Turf

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Next, as part of our series on the rise of China, we have two tales of Chinese living abroad in very different settings. We'll head to Lagos, Nigeria.


First, though, we're going to Italy to the town of Prato. It's been a center for top-quality textiles for more than 1,000 years.

MONTAGNE: Today, it's home to the largest concentration of Chinese residents in Europe. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports they've made Prato the hub of a new globalized textile market.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: On Via Pistoiese, shops are Chinese - hairdresser, hardware, supermarket and real estate. There are few Italians. It's 2:00 p.m. and all shops are open. There's no time for siesta in Chinatown.

Unidentified People: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: Chinese buyers come here for threads, buttons and zippers and sewing machines. The Chinese owner gives his name only in Italian.

GIUSEPPE: Giuseppe.

POGGIOLI: Giuseppe. The Chinese are wary. Authorities say 20,000 are legal, but as many as 30,000 are not. Altogether, that makes the Chinese one-quarter of the local population. Recent police raids uncovered a string of sweatshops, where illegal workers sleep, eat and work. Paid miserable wages, they sit before sewing machines for up to 18 hours in a row, producing a total of one million garment items a day.

This is the Macrolotto industrial park, home of pronto moda - fast fashion -warehouse after warehouse filled with racks of low-end, trendy women's garments. There are trucks, vans and cars from all over Europe and the Middle East. They've come for the made-in-Italy brand at made-in-China prices.

All business here is done in cash, no receipts. Nearby, an Arab man is hurriedly stuffing clothes into his rental car.

POGGIOLI: How many times do you come a year?

Unidentified Man: Five times a year.

POGGIOLI: And you sell?

Unidentified Man: In Syria, Damascus.

POGGIOLI: At Julywei and King, hundreds of metal racks are filled with clothes. There are no brand labels, just one tag with the status symbol words: a real product made in Italy, even though all the fabric comes from China.

Twenty-six-year-old Alex King says Prato is ideally located in the center of Europe. This business, he says, needs no advertising. It flourishes thanks to an international grapevine.

Mr. ALEX KING: No. They used to buy in China, but they get easier to buy from here because, first, it's near, and second, they get the color they want. Because in China, they have to get a lot of quantity to make trucks, correct? So here they take what they like, and ready, ready stuff. They don't have to order.

POGGIOLI: Here a pair of linen pants goes for eight and a half euros, about $10, a woman's top for four euros. Despite such low prices, turnover of some 5,000 small companies is estimated at two billion euros a year, thanks to made-in-China fabrics and low-cost illegal workers.

Hardly any of these companies, Italian authorities say, pay taxes - a habit learned from their Italian counterparts.

But while the Chinese flourished, Prato textile companies dropped from seven to four thousand in just one decade. As Chinese wealth grew, Italian resentment spread.

(Soundbite of convention chatter)

POGGIOLI: At a convention of Prato business leaders is held at a local hotel. Guests include the deputy Chinese consul, Yang Han. He is critical of police raids on Chinese workshops. He calls for a more gradual approach to allow Chinese businessmen to learn Italian laws.

Mr. YANG HAN (Deputy Chinese Consul): (Through translator) The Chinese government very closely follows its immigrants abroad, who are an important part of our homeland. They're hard workers with good intentions. They go abroad to get good work, to earn well, and to better enjoy life.

POGGIOLI: But no Chinese businessman was invited to discuss Prato's economic future. The overriding Italian fear is that the Chinese will expand and apply their winning methods to other, more sophisticated sectors of the made in Italy economy.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

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