A total of 192 brands involved in various sectors decided last year to bring production back to Italy. They represented 20 percent of the companies that have made this “re-shoring” decision around the world, placing Italy in second place after the U.S., which made the big move to offshore manufacturing before everybody else. Italy came ahead of the U.K. and Germany. Almost 20 of all the re-shoring decisions made around the world in 2013 affected the clothing and footwear industry.

These data are based on a university research project presented a week ago at the annual convention of Assocalzaturifici, the Italian shoe industry association. Held in the historical Palazzo Vecchio of Florence, the convention bore a significant title - “The Great Return” - and was attended by shoe industry officials as well as representatives of the banking sector and government authorities.

The general conclusion was that many companies are now considering taking the production back to Italy for many reasons, including the escalating labor costs in China and other emerging markets. However, they are hesitating to make the move because of governmental regulations, a lack of financial and fiscal incentives, and a certain indifference among the general public about the origin of the products.

A survey conducted by Assocalzaturifici among its member firms clearly indicated that the search for lower production costs was by far the main reason why certain companies stopped manufacturing in Italy. Yet, the survey showed also that 47 percent of those that had made this choice revised it afterwards for various reasons. The main motivation for the about-face was a belief in the added value brought by the “made in Italy” label in terms of market recognition. Other reasons cited by respondents were the poor quality of the manufacturing process or the product, and non-compliance with the requested delivery times.

Italian shoemakers clearly believe that the quality and timeliness of their short supply chain is a key factor in their competitiveness in international markets. In fact, Italian companies that have resorted to offshore manufacturing tend to sell less abroad than those that have kept at least a portion of the manufacturing process in Italy.

However, another interesting piece of research presented at the Florence convention indicated that Italian consumers don't really make the “made in Italy” label a criterion in their purchasing choices when it comes to shoes, even though 78 percent of them agree that buying Italian-made products is a form of protection from poor quality and a guarantee of fair trade, without the exploitation of workers.

Cleto Sagripanti, president of Assocalzaturifici, asked for help from the government to promote a new awareness among consumers about the value of Italian-made products. He also reiterated his call on European governments to introduce mandatory labels of origins for footwear, partly to encourage a re-industrialization process that would help them to achieve their target of generating 20 percent of the GDP through the industrial sector by 2020.

Sagripanti listed various other measures that would encourage the re-shoring process in the Italian footwear industry, such as tax deductions for the development of samples and guaranteed loans to companies that re-launch the production in Italy. At another convention a few days ago in Milan, Diego Della Valle, the well-known Italian entrepreneur who controls Tod's, suggested other measures including a tax break for companies that manufacture their products in Italy.

Sagripanti and other officials of Assocalzaturifici praised some aspects of a recently voted “Stability Legislation” that will introduce some important measures next year in support of the economy and areas of excellence in manufacturing. These measures focus in particular on cutting labor costs and improving competitiveness. However, they complained about some persistent problems in the areas of taxation, the promotion of Italian production and support for research and innovation.

Italian authorities have vaguely indicated that they plan to continue to support the Italian shoe industry in the area of export promotion, in spite of a big cut recently voted in the budget of Ice, the Italian Trade Commission. A banker said his company, Banca MPS, is working on a project together with Assocalzaturifici to help its members in their internationalization efforts.