Holly Ryan at work in her studio
Australian designers like Sass and Bide, Antipodium and Dion Lee are making big names for themselves on runways in New York and London, but the domestic fashion industry is in the midst of a crisis.
Many of Australia’s garment manufacturers have gone bankrupt and as local brands send more work overseas, fewer and fewer clothes in stores can bear the ‘Made in Australia’ label.
Some parts of the industry may have disappeared for good, with Australia’s very last hosiery manufacturer, Winsome Hosiery closing its doors in June 2013.
“[Overseas production] it’s just astronomically cheaper, so I can certainly understand the move but at the same time it does make me quite sad”
While some high-street stores such as Cue proudly boast their clothing as ‘made in Australia from Australian materials’, without the specialist manufacturers making hosiery, linings and fastenings on-shore at least part of these garments appear to be coming from China.
Young designers face a tough choice; either to go through the lengthy and expensive process of sourcing Australian materials and manufacturing, or to move their production overseas to Asia.
Designer Rachel Burke who started label Yellowcake before embarking on a career in commercial design for chain stores including Princess Polly and Universal store says manufacturing costs in Australia can push prices too high for consumers.
“There was a time where I actually did look into getting it manufactured in Australia but I sort of found the cost was quite high and also from what I had heard around getting things that were quite complicated would just be such a large amount of money.”
“And because so many of my things have a lot of levels in work in that there’s like pom poms, handmade flowers it was probably going to be more than any amount I would be able to resell the garment for.”
Increasingly Australian high-end labels including sunglasses label Graz are moving their operations overseas, citing long production times in Australia as a barrier to meeting demand when a products become popular.
“There is definitely a sense of understanding for why they make that jump because while I do make my own things, like I am now working as a commercial designer and you know can just see the incredibly significant price jump between getting something made in Australia and getting something made overseas is.”
One of Rachel Burke’s designs being created in-studio
Rachel Burke continues to create her one-of-a-kind couture pieces and samples by hand but concedes that for labels in high-demand it is simply more cost effective to move manufacturing overseas.
“It’s not a petty amount by any means, it’s just astronomically cheaper, so I can certainly understand the move but at the same time it does make me quite sad because I feel like moving away from locally produced things and that sort of route does lose something in the garment.”
Jewellery designer Holly Ryan says cheaper manufacturing costs are not a good excuse for brands to move production overseas and if Australian consumers are willing to support local artisans if they are educated on the difference between locally and foreign made products.
“why don’t you just move overseas so you can just make heaps of money and be successful?”
“It is definitely really, really important to educate your customers about the production methods that you use if you’re an Australian made label that is, I think there is a lot of labels out there that say they’re Australian made label and they’re definitely not and that then cheapens everyone who is an Australian made label which is really sad.”
Holly Ryan says while the Australian-made approach means the growth of her brand is slower than it would be if she outsourced manufacturing, both she and her customers are better for it.
“So many times I’m asked the question why don’t you just move overseas so you can just make heaps of money and be successful?”
“And it is like, it seems really easy doesn’t it, but morally I don’t agree with it and at the end of the day I like making things myself and I like the studio environment of everyone making things.”
With the major labels choosing to send their production off-shore, it seems the only hope for Australian manufacturers lies with the young designers looking for locally produced materials to provide substance with their style.
Closed for business: Winsome Hosiery. Source: Abc.net.au