Italian fabric manufacturers have been struggling since globalization opened the sector to cheap Asian competition at the end of the 1990s. Though Italy's fabric industry has improved productivity in recent years, it has not been able to compete on wages.
This has put Italy behind two groups of competitors in recent years: high-tech, high-end competitors in countries such as Germany and the United States, and low-end producers in places like China, Bangladesh and Turkey.
Italy remains the world's third-largest exporter of clothes and fabrics. But its market share has halved to just 4 percent since 2000, while employment in textiles has fallen every year for 25 years. It is now around 60 percent of what it was in 1990, down 370,000 jobs, according to employers' association Confindustria. The lower end of the market, which the Seriana Valley specialised in, has been hardest hit. China now exports eight times as much.
The international agreements to dismantle trade barriers in textiles were signed in 1995, but China only signed up in 2001. That meant Seriana Valley had a head start to move up-market or convert its factories to supply machines to the Chinese. Nothing was done
Italy's textile industry, a central driver of the country's economic growth in the 20th century, the result is fewer jobs, lower living standards and abandoned factories, such as a trail of empty shells along the Seriana Valley outside the northern Italian city of Bergamo. The area prospered from textiles for more than a century. Until 20 years ago most locals either built or operated the machines that transformed cotton into thread, or thread into curtains, sheets, towels and clothes.
It was known as "the Golden Valley" because of the high average income of its famously industrious inhabitants. Now people are lucky if they can find a job in Bergamo.
Itema, an industrial loom-maker and one of the few surviving companies in the region which had 1,000 workers 14 years back now has only 389.
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