Chapter 6: Globalization and Low-technology Industries: The Case of Italian Eyewear
Diego Campagnolo and Arnaldo Camuffo 1. INTRODUCTION The Italian industrial system is known worldwide for its focus on low-tech, mature industries, its high level of fragmentation, its organization around geographically coupled supply systems (industrial districts) and the prevalence of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), vertically specialized in one or more phases of a supply chain (Piore and Sabel, 1984; Porter, 1990; Becattini et al., 2003). In the past, Italian firms prospered in such ‘protected’, semi-closed environments. They relied on a few main, local customers, and such ‘semi-captive’ demand usually saturated their production capacity and shaped their capabilities. The success of these ‘microworlds’ was rooted in manufacturing, built on a heritage of craftsmanship and skilled labour, on incremental innovation, and products characterized by the intrinsic quality of being ‘made in Italy’. Social embeddedness and geographical proximity facilitated the development of relational contracts, knowledge diffusion and mutual learning among buyers, suppliers and even competitors. In recent years, because of globalization and digital technologies, these characteristics have become structural weaknesses. A large number of SMEs in industries like textiles, clothing, footwear, machinery and furniture have experienced declining revenues, many entering a crisis from which they have not recovered. However, some firms have been able to change and adapt. Among these, the larger firms, usually assemblers/ buyers located in the downstream sections of supply chains, have changed sourcing policies, reducing their dependence on local suppliers, actively seeking low-cost sources in such emerging areas as Eastern Europe and East Asia and establishing direct access to...
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