Chinese Immigrant Conquers Florentine Fashion

Though thousands of Chinese immigrants work as laborers in and around Florence, Suping Liu is the first Chinese to open shop on the city's famously fashionalbe Via Tornabuoi in Florence. Hers is a story of determination and an east-meets-west eye

Shopping street scene, Florence (riddle)
Shopping street scene, Florence (riddle)
Maris Corbi

FLORENCE – Opening a shop along the fashionable Via Tornabuoni is no easy feat – especially if you're from China. Six years ago, Suping Lin arrived in Italy from the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, near Shanghai, and brought with her a thirst to succeed. Today, she is the happy owner of a famous Florence leather brand, Desmo, and has just opened a store in the prestigious shopping street, the first ever owned by a Chinese immigrant.

At the opening event of the store, Suping wore a traditional Chinese dress, and her hair cropped short. She addressed the small crowd with a mix of Tuscan and Cantonese accents.

When one considers Suping's life, it is impossible not to think about all her fellow Chinese women who also arrive in Italy in search of a better life. Many end up toiling long hours, sometimes in illegal "sweatshop" conditions, just a few miles away from Florence, in the small industrial city of Prato. On the other end of the spectrum are the wealthy Chinese tourists who pound the Florentine cobblestones every day in search of designer brands.

Suping – or Sara, as some call her – fits neither bill. She is not an Italian citizen yet, but has made sure to befriend Matteo Renzi, the young mayor of Florence, who went to congratulate and hug her at the opening of the store. Suping Lin also has her own strong ideas about immigration issues. "I think that Chinese companies have to follow the rules of this country, and make their contribution to the society," she said. "But, on the other hand, Italian businessmen and women have to understand that companies like mine are an important part of Italy. Ours are ancient and similar cultures. This will help."

Daughter of textile workers

Hope and persistence are the defining elements of Suping's story. After arriving in Italy, she lived in Como where her parents worked for a textile firm. "I didn't know anyone there, I had left all my friends in China," she recalls.

"For a long time I couldn't even tell one Italian from another: they all seemed the same to me," she adds with a smile. "The same happens to you, with Chinese people."

After a few years, her hard working parents managed to open a small leather clothes firm in the Tuscan town of Empoli. Their workshop became a training ground for the young Suping. As a teenager, she would spend half her time studying and the other half working. She already had big ambitions.

At the age of 19, she got married to a fellow Chinese man. "Getting maried early on in life is a Chinese custom. It is different from what you usually see in Italy, where children stay with mom and dad for as long as they can," says Suping. "In China, when parents reach 40, their children must provide and look after them."

Sara continued to work hard even after the birth of her children, a boy and a girl. She went on to design leather garments for Tuscan firms, and in 2008 she registered her own clothing and accessories brand. She called it J&C, Jacky&Celine, for her children's names. Her brand is now sold in twenty countries around the globe, and particularly successful in Moscow and Dubai. J&C is also 100 percent "Made in Italy."

Suping Liu takes pride from her success as an Italian businesswoman. She has recently taken over Desmo, a small Tuscan luxury goods brand founded in 1976, and has designed her first collection of bags for the firm. The collection carries Suping's personal style, which is defined by the use of expensive materials, such as pink python and cavallino leather. Suping is particularly eager to underline that she uses Tuscan leather, from Santa Croce sull'Arno.

The shop in via Tornabuoni is a personal victory for Suping Liu: "This is the most important fashion street in Florence. It is internationally known," she said. The choice of the address was not random, as Suping picked it using the Feng Shui techniques. "I valued some important coincidences. Here we are in front of Ferragamo, and this seemed a good sign. Also, this was the only building in the street left untouched by the bombing during the Second World War," she said.

Suping Liu says that, by 2012, she will have already moved back to China. She wants to open her stores in Beijing and Shanghai. "Going back is really important to me," Signora Sara Suping says. It is the satisfaction of overcoming an almost impossible challenge.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - riddle

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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