New rich a blessing for Vicenza’s artisans
By Rachel Sanderson in Milan
Published: April 15 2011 19:02 | Last updated: April 15 2011 23:26
Vicenza, the northern Italian art town, is learning that what China’s industrial might takes away with one hand, its rapacious consumers give back with the other.
The city, once the world’s gold manufacturing capital, has been devastated by record gold prices and competition from cheaper Chinese manufacturers.
Where 10 years ago Vicenza was home to 1,300 gold jewellery manufacturers, there are now 600.
In some areas of town unemployment among women, who have borne the brunt of redundancies, is as high as 90 percent.
But while Vicenza’s gold workers lose their jobs to cheaper labour in China and shutter their laboratori, another Italian industry is rushing to hire them.
Makers of luxury leather handbags, costing as much as €75,000 (£108,000) each, are struggling to satisfy Chinese demand.
Their new employers include Bottega Veneta, the luxury goods group owned by France’s PPR group.
Bottega Veneta is based in Vicenza, and the signature woven intreccio infilato technique with which it designs handbags is traditional to the surrounding region, Veneto.
“We saw an opportunity in the gold industry to create better production capacity at the level we want,” Marco Bizzarri, Bottega Veneta chairman and chief executive, told the Financial Times. “We didn’t want to delocalise because the people here have amazing talents and they just lost their jobs.”
Mr Bizzarri, with the agreement of Luca Zaia, president of the Veneto region, has set up a co-operative employing women formerly employed in Vicenza’s gold industry and retraining them as leather weavers for Bottega Veneta.
“[The co-operative] has given a depressed zone the impetus to start up a business and the women the opportunity to look to their future with hope,” said Mr Zaia.
With another co-operative planned, the group is on the way to doubling its production capacity.
At present, the 100 white-coated artisans in Bottega Veneta’s Vicenza factory cannot weave fast enough to keep up with sales over the past two years, as demand from emerging markets surges.
Sales of luxury goods are expected to rise 8 per cent annually until 2015 on the back of demand from consumers in China, Brazil, Mexico and Russia. Bottega Veneta has been a niche brand for PPR, and a smaller sibling to big sister brand Gucci.
Customers are willing to pay a handsome premium for the company’s logo-free but costly products. Part of the allure is that production is limited. Goods are 80 per cent made by hand and produced only in Veneto.
“Made in Italy is an absolute must for us,” Mr Bizzarri said.
“Our customers expect it and clustering our business helps our distribution.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.