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Italy: Silky smooth revival

Clusters of silkworms munch on piles of locally grown mulberry leaves in Italy’s northern Veneto region. They are nourishing hopes of a revival of Italy’s 1,000-year-old silk industry.

Decades after Veneto’s last silk mills were shuttered as a postwar economic boom lured farmers to cities, budding silk-makers are trying to spin a niche around a traceable supply chain of high-quality material.

“This is a new beginning for a sector that was vital until 50 years ago,” said Giampietro Zonta, a jeweler who started producing his own silk to create a line of bracelets and necklaces made of interwoven gold and silk.

Still, Italy’s budding silk industry is minuscule compared to the 130,000 tons of silk that China manufactured in 2013.

Italy, which is one of the world’s major importers, uses mainly Chinese silk to make finished fabric, neckties, scarves, shirts and dresses.

The effort speaks to a gradual shift in the economics of overseas production as rising salaries in Asia nibble at fat profit margins that have long lured European companies to produce abroad.

Silkworm eggs and rearing techniques came to Europe from Asia along the trade routes known as the Silk Road. They arrived around the year 1000 in Italy.

Two world wars in quick succession at the beginning of the 20th century, however, changed the social and economic fabric of Europe. Soon after the second conflict, Italy began a period of industrialization that spelled the end of silk-making.

Italians aren’t the only Europeans who are reviving silk production in Europe; Swiss silkmakers started production in 2009.  Reuters

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