New Zealand’s fabric making industry is slowly dying out, pushing most designers to source materials overseas, a former designer for Pumpkin Patch says.
Carly Tolley was commenting on recent revelations that Kiwi fashion label World used a small percentage of overseas-made clothes and components, and repurposed them, labelling them New Zealand-made.
Tolley said over the last two decades very few clothes were being made in New Zealand, after heavy import duties and quotas were scrapped in the early 2000s.
“As it’s become cheaper to import from overseas, more brands are doing just that. There were many local fabric weavers in before the 1990s but with growing demand, it’s just become to expensive for them to work out of New Zealand,” Tolley said.
“It’s very sad.”
Local fabric weavers used to knit imported cotton yarn, but today most fabrics that were produced in New Zealand were merino and knitwear, Tolley said.
Tolley said if something was assembled in New Zealand, but constituted some materials from overseas, it could still be considered New Zealand made. But most designers imported their fabric from China and manufactured their there, she said.
According to the Commerce Commission, if important components are imported or if part of the manufacturing process is undertaken off shore, then a ‘New Zealand made’ claim risks breaching the Fair Trading Act.
Inter-weave is one of the country’s last fabric producers. Managing director Tracy March said as long as the market was price driven and there was poor education about the cheap fabrics polluting the environment, there would be no revival of New Zealand’s fabric industry.
“It’s expensive to produce fabric in New Zealand because of such high compliance costs. In the past there were high tariffs that protected our industry against importers but that’s all gone now,” March said.
“Designers can get their fabrics from China for $2 per metre, where as it costs us $20 per metre to produce our raw materials. How can we compete with that?”
Inter-weave’s production is primarily exported to Australia, Britain and the United States.
“We need to change the mindset of New Zealand consumers that think US or British made clothes are better. New Zealanders should appreciate what’s in their own backyards, manufacturing more fabrics that are sustainable, like wool.”
March said the fashion industry was increasingly price driven.
The debate ramped up when World’s co-owner Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet’s told the media that she could not find any New Zealand-based t-shirt manufacturers.
That was rebuffed by Ben Kepes, the owner of Christchurch-based clothing brand Cactus Outdoor, who said L’Estrange-Corbet’s claims were a “blatant lie” as there were still manufacturers of t-shirts here, although there were limited fabric options in the country.
Kepes said his company imported its materials from around the world, mostly Europe, and then made clothes in small factories in the South Island.
Recently New Zealand’s largest textiles supplier, Cooper Watkinson Textiles, quit its fabric wholesaling operation, and Tolley said its departure would leave a hole in the fashion industry, despite it sourcing some material from overseas.
“They supported many young designers, we’re not going to have that any more.”
Tolley said the fashion industry in New Zealand had increasingly moved toward outsourcing production.
“Once patterns, cutting, sewing, were all an inhouse operation. Now we’re seeing, like with most industries, the fashion industry outsources different people for each of those steps.”
Sue Bailey runs pattern making business Pattern Potential in Morrinsville that provides clothing for the big local designers and she agreed the local fashion industry was no longer what it once was.
“New Zealand made is expensive. Even I can’t afford some of the clothes my clients make,” Bailey said.
“Every time there is a financial crisis there is a terrible impact on the trade. Everything has become digital and online shopping has changed things,” she said.