Country of origin has long been considered a hallmark of quality.
It’s an arbitrary signifier, much like the term ‘hand made’.
And there’s a similar amount of rule bending going on for many brands to be able to stick those labels on their products.
That’s not something I’ll go into here, because it’s deserving of a full paper of its own.
The main focus here is on whether the label really means anything.
Case in point, the premium placed on items made in Italy, versus the (subconscious or not) general derision of items made somewhere like China.
Country of origin really isn’t much of a guarantee.
I’ve often seen people think that an item is great, and proceed to turn their nose up as soon as they see a Made in China label.
The item itself can be of good and sturdy make, but attitude clouds the judgment.
To illustrate, the best tees I’ve seen for under one hundred dollars are made by a Chinese brand, Bronson MFG Company.
They’re sturdy, made with excellent materials and I’ve bought several over multiple transactions.
And I’ll continue to buy them.
My jeans from Indonesian brand Adelaide Denim Co. are constructed more sturdily and from better quality fabric than anything I’ve seen, requiring a step of up to 200% higher in price range before anything else from more established brands could be regarded in a similar tier of quality.
On the flip side, looking at the premium placed on the Made in Italy tag, I’ve seen some fantastic pieces of Italian make.
And the price tag is marked accordingly.
However, I’ve also seen some absolute messes bearing the Made in Italy label.
And they’ve had accordingly high price tags, too.
I once had a rather expensive Italian-made designer leather belt literally fall apart after four wears.
But it all still sells, with people simply buying the national reputation.
These national reputations change over time.
Decades ago, Italy used to be the destination for Englishmen to go and have their suits made at a cheaper price than they could at home.
Much like Australians these days will go to local tailors on South East Asian holidays for the same.
When Italian manufacturing quality became vaunted, the next cheap destinations became places like Hong Kong and Japan.
Both Japan and HK started out with national reputations of being the home of cheap and cheerful products.
Now Japan has had a reputation for being one of the best at clothing in the world, and has done for the whole time.
Hong Kong has given us some stellar menswear brands now, like Prologue, The Armoury and The Anthology.
On a lateral tangent, Korea also had such a reputation, particularly in automaking and particularly among Australians.
Brands like Hyundai and Kia used to be spit upon.
Now they’re making some of the best new vehicles available on the market.
And, to go back to clothes, I regularly see excellent quality garments come from China.
Additionally, some of the most interesting shoes are coming from places in South East Asia where shoe culture is burgeoning among legions of people who are really passionate about it (This was discussed at length in my interview with the gents from Thomas George Collection).
Worth every dollar of the price, which is more than I can say for many garments coming from nations with a premium price tag reputation.
The national reputations may change over time, but quite frankly, in the age of globalisation there need not be anywhere near the amount of time traditionally taken to build manufacturing systems anywhere in the world.
Globalisation means that it’s easier than ever before to take your technical prowess anywhere in the world and start a business.
An Italian maestro can run a business in China or India; Chinese and Indians can – and do – go to nations like Italy to get the training to become every bit as worth the premium price tag.
Except, to our benefit as consumers, the price tag isn’t usually so high.
Appraise the quality of a garment, not its country of origin label.
It’s the craft, the passion and the workmanship that counts, regardless of where it comes from.
I’ll leave you with an Instagram post by Kirin Tailors, featuring a beautifully crafted grey suit;
captioned proudly with “Made in China“.