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Where Am I Wearing Wednesday: A Fresh Look at “Made in Italy”

Today, like every day, I’m wearing glasses. They were made in Italy and I just made a horrible discovery: they are Dolce & Gabbana glasses.

That’s not “horrible” you’re probably thinking to yourself.

Obviously you don’t subscribe to Esquire magazine.

Anytime I see D&G on a shirt or handbag, my mind is flooded with the image that greets me each month I crack open a new Esquire. There’s this fella, who also looks like he was made in Italy, floating in what appears to be a life raft, but he looks too busy casually flexing his abs to be concerned about his life, so maybe it’s just a raft. Anyhow, he’s sweaty and is wearing a white Speedo (he definitely must be Italian). The Speedo has two strings with tiny metal aglets on the ends. The strings are way too short to tie into anything that could be labeled a knot, but even if they were long enough, they wouldn’t serve much of a purpose because they are on a Speedo.

The ad is for some type of cologne—or I should say eau de toilette. It was bad enough facing the white life raft Speedo ad once a month—slowly turning the pages hoping the next one was not The Ad. But now that I know my LensCrafter’s glasses are D&G, I’m afraid I’ll be reminded each time I put them on.

Well, at least with such a high-end “Made in Italy” brand I don’t have to be concerned with the conditions in which my glasses were manufactured, right? That’s what I thought when I bought them.

I wasn’t shopping for a designer brand. I just wanted a pair of glasses that wouldn’t break or bend when I sat on them, as I often do. They looked sturdy and they were made in Italy, which I felt a little better about than all the others that were made in China.

But after a little digging I learned that “Made in Italy” doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is made by Italians. Sometimes it means Made by Imported Cheap Chinese Labor.

The Chinese workers work twice as long as their Italian counterparts and earn half as much. Much of their wage goes to paying off the debt they incurred to get to Italy. They are the indentured servants that neither Dolce nor Gabbana want us to know about.

“The Italians are funny like that,” one such Chinese worker told the UK’s Daily Mirror. “They want what we have to offer—they are so proud of their luxury handbags, shoes and clothes—but they would prefer that we weren’t seen or heard.”

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An Italian manufacturer using Italian labor told the LA Times that he’s not happy about this either. “That’s plain wrong,” he said. “When you have a product like Prada or Dolce & Gabbana, you are not supposed to use illegal workers … ‘Made in Italy’ means tradition, know-how and standards. It means not only made in Italy, but made in the Italian way.”

A recent piece on The World revealed a similar situation with Made in Spain products.

While newspapers report and labels are shamed, while brands cover up and consumers gripe, the Chinese workers, far from home, work away. Theirs is a tradition of hard work. And although their hours and wages are difficult for us to relate to, their motivation is not.

As one Chinese worker told The World: “A Spaniard might say I have my house and my car, I’m not going to work for 7 dollars an hour. But me, I’ll work for that wage for 12 hours, because the more I earn, the more I have, and my child will have a roof over his head.”

I’m not sure if my glasses were made by imported Chinese labor or not, but one thing is for sure: Next month when I flip open my new Esquire and am confronted with the fella in the white Speedo, I’ll be looking through the same pair of glasses as I did last month, but I’ll see things much differently.

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