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The ‘Made In’ Dilemma: To Label, or Not to Label

Consumers care about the origin of their products, but luxury brands are all over the place when it comes to 'Made in' disclosures, says Luca Solca of Exane BNP Paribas.
A 'Made in Italy' label | Source: BoF
  • Luca Solca

LONDON, United Kingdom — Consumers care about the origin of their products. The Chinese — the largest nation of luxury consumers in the world — want their watches to be Swiss, their perfumes and cosmetics to be French, their cars to be German and their bags and shoes to be either Italian or French.

But luxury brands are all over the place when it comes to disclosing where their products are made. All recognise the potential advantages of full disclosure but few — even those boasting a manufacturing heritage — exploit it. The majority go for partial disclosure, depending on their positioning and the depth of their heritage.

‘Made in’ disclosures are not required for products traded within the European Union. Even where required, ‘Made in’ criteria are easy to meet: cost thresholds can be reached with finishing, quality control and packaging, while manufacturing is kept offshore. The exception is Switzerland, which is tightening its "Swiss Made" criteria.

In cooperation with Contact Lab, Exane BNP Paribas examined 'Made in' disclosures as they appear on the websites of major luxury brands and found that brands fall into four broad groups. The first group is composed of brands which have full transparent disclosure on their web product pages and declared production in heritage countries on almost all products. This group includes luxury brands like Bottega Veneta, Brunello Cucinelli, Valentino, Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga, Fendi and Tod's.

The second group comprises companies with 'Made in' disclosures on web product pages but which declare production in heritage countries only for high-level product lines. For example, Burberry declares 'Made in the UK' and 'Made in Italy' for Burberry Prorsum, while tagging its lower cost Brit line with 'Imported'; Armani declares 'Made in Italy' for Giorgio Armani and 'Imported' for Armani Jeans; Ralph Lauren declares 'Made in Italy' for Ralph Lauren Collection and 'Imported' for Polo Ralph Lauren.

Then, there are companies making little or no disclosure on their web product pages, though they declare some production in heritage countries, whether in FAQs or pictures and video. Hermès, Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton, Ermenegildo Zegna and Salvatore Ferragamo fall into this category.

Finally, there are brands with little or no 'made in' disclosure on their web product pages and no hint of production in heritage countries. These include Chanel, Dior, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, Coach and Tory Burch.

Italian brands have an advantage. Most of their production, especially at the high end, is based in Italy. For them, ‘Made in Italy’ is a consistent marketing statement that reinforces their brand positioning. Seventy-five percent of the brands in the first group are Italian and fifty percent of those are high-end. Only two Italian brands, out of a total of nine that were surveyed, are in the fourth group.

French brands have a disadvantage. For the same reason, French brands probably find it less compelling to disclose where their products are made. Four of the nine brands in the fourth group are French and two of these are at the high-end: Chanel and Dior. Similarly, two of the five brands in the third group are French. One of them — Louis Vuitton — actually seems to de-emphasise ‘Made in Italy’ completely: the website carries only a very general statement in the FAQs to the effect that most of its handbags are produced in France and Spain, whereas the labels in its handbags state ‘Made in Italy.’ Two of Kering’s brands are exceptions to the rule: Saint Laurent and Balenciaga are both transparent in their disclosures, declaring “Made in France” and “Made in Italy” on their product pages.

A few Italian brands seem to have decided that they do not really need a ‘Made in’ endorsement. Loro Piana, Salvatore Ferragamo and Ermenegildo Zegna are all included in the third group but could very well move to the first: they are Italian brands and predominantly made in Italy. Prada in the past advocated using a ‘Made by Prada’ label for its products, downplaying country of origin qualifications. But after significant manufacturing investments in the Tuscany region of Italy, the company seems in the midst of a U-turn on this front. However, its disclosure practices do not seem to have caught up with this change.

Aspirational luxury brands have little interest in 'Made in' disclosure. For example, Coach and Tory Burch would likely have to report 'Made in China' or another low-cost, emerging market country of origin. This would not add to brand desirability, especially in the eyes of Chinese and other emerging market consumers. That said, Michael Kors and Moncler are very transparent. Their web product pages specify that the vast majority of their products are manufactured in non-heritage countries.

Luca Solca is the head of luxury goods at BNP Exane Paribas.

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