The Truth Behind Luxury Manufacturing Provenance

In the world of luxury goods, the allure of heritage and craftsmanship are what form the cornerstone of a brand's identity. From exquisite leather handbags bearing that coveted Made in Italy tag, or a classic, made in England trench coat, consumers are drawn to the promise of quality and exclusivity.


However, behind the veneer of luxury lies a complex web of manufacturing practices that may not always align with the romanticised narratives presented to consumers.


From Chinese sweatshops operating out of Italy to only minor assembling taking place in the claimed country of origin, the Made in… label is sadly now reduced to a mere marketing tool. And a deceptive one at that. Who loses out? The consumer, the worker and the environment.


The perceived perfection of provenance

The concept of provenance holds epic sway in the luxury market. Many brands leverage the reputation of specific regions renowned for their artisanal traditions to enhance the perceived value of their products. Think; Italian leather goods, Swiss watches and French perfumes.


The association with a particular country's craftsmanship adds that all-important layer of prestige. Indeed one study revealed that consumers were more willing to purchase and spend more on wine when they believed it was from a more authentic Old World region.


Country of origin manipulation

So, how are brands exploiting the notion of provenance? While products may indeed be assembled or finished in the claimed country of origin, the components or even the majority of the manufacturing process could take place elsewhere – mostly Asia or Eastern Europe.


This practice, known as "country of origin manipulation," allows brands to capitalise on the perceived cachet of a specific location while taking advantage of cheaper labour and production costs overseas.


Take Louis Vuitton. In 2017 the LVMH giant was exposed for manufacturing its ‘Made in Italy’ shoes in Romania, only doing the finishing sole touches in Italy.


And it’s not just manufacturing. Let’s not forget that the materials and fabrics themselves are rarely produced in the claimed country of origin. China’s Xinjiang produces one-fifth of the world’s cotton, often using forced Uyghur labour.



As its sales massively fell in the last decade, heritage British brand Mulberry now only makes 50% of its products at its Somerset factory. According to the Guardian, the other 50% are made with partnerships with manufacturers in Turkey, Spain, Portugal and China.


Of course, all this additional shipping is only adding to the fashion industry’s already sizeable carbon footprint of 10% of global carbon emissions. Indeed, the production of apparel and footwear has a carbon footprint that surpasses that of the aviation industry as well as the combined emissions of Germany, France and the United Kingdom.


Made in Italy (using Chinese labour)

The assumption for consumers is likely that brands manufacture products in-house, but outsourcing production to second or even third-party subcontractors is common. The ‘artisan’ that made your designer bag is likely not an elder Italian craftsperson with decades of experience behind them, but an undocumented migrant worker.


One particularly glaring example of this phenomenon is the exposure of Chinese sweatshops operating in Italy. Reports have revealed instances of Chinese immigrants, often undocumented and vulnerable, working in deplorable conditions in factories across Italy's industrial heartland.


These workers, lured by the promise of employment and a better life, find themselves trapped in exploitative labour practices, toiling away for long hours with little pay or regard for their rights.


In 2019 a Naples factory owner was arrested for employing dozens of undocumented workers. The factory was known for producing bags and shoes for megabrands like Armani, Saint Laurent and Fendi.


It’s widespread across Italy too. The Tuscan town of Prato is home to multiple Chinese factories that do not meet the ethical standards required by European or Italian laws. Raids have revealed squalid conditions for workers making clothes with a ‘Made in Italy’ label.


A major Il Sole investigation in conjunction with local police exposed countless Chinese factories in Florence, where Burberry handbags have a net selling price of between 38 and 133 euros per item. For context, no bag currently on Burberry’s website retails for below four figures.


The infiltration of Chinese sweatshops into Italy's luxury manufacturing sector raises significant ethical concerns. It confirms the dark underbelly of an industry built on prestige and exclusivity, shedding light on the human cost behind the façade of luxury.


Shockingly secret supply chains

Designers are frequently not transparent when it comes to their end-to-end supply chains. Ranked as “Not Good Enough” Prada falls short in labour conditions. While most of its final production stages happen in Italy, the brand doesn't disclose supplier lists or details about forced labour, gender equality or freedom of association. Moreover, there's no evidence that Prada guarantees a living wage for workers in its supply chain.


In fact, accountability on-profit KnowTheChain reported that luxury apparel companies score particularly poorly, averaging 31/100 for supply chain transparency. Prada’s score has worsened over time, at just 5/100, while peers such as the French luxury goods company Kering scored 41/100 and Hugo Boss 49/100.


Consumer trust severed

A murky country of origin and dubious supply chain practices undermine the integrity of the luxury market, eroding trust between brands and consumers. When consumers purchase a product with a "Made in Italy" label, they do so with certain expectations regarding quality, craftsmanship and ethical manufacturing practices. The revelation that these expectations may not always be met leads to disillusionment and a loss of confidence in the brand.


As a consumer, you can play a crucial role in driving change within the luxury market. By learning about the realities of manufacturing practices and demanding greater transparency from brands, you can exert pressure to ensure ethical standards are upheld throughout the supply chain.


Supporting smaller, independent brands that demonstrate a genuine commitment to responsible manufacturing and labour practices sends a powerful message that ethical considerations matter as much as aesthetics and prestige.


At Rowdy, provenance, transparency, and ethical practices underpin our ethos. Crafted from high-welfare, sustainable aniline and nubuck leather sourced from our specialist tannery in Namibia, each Rowdy bag is ethically and sustainably manufactured by artisans at our Cape Town workshop.


Shop ROWDY’s sustainable, handmade leather handbags, leather travel pouches, crafted from high-welfare, sustainable aniline and nubuck leather sourced from our specialist tannery in Namibia.