Australian fashion brands explain why they produce overseas

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Shift our attention from “where” to “how”.

I’ve been in fashion for over five years now, and it’s only been about a year since I noticed a real change in the way we talk about making clothes. It seems that we no longer confuse ‘ethical’ and ‘slow’ fashion with ‘local’ fashion, and we don’t place so much emphasis on the country where the garment was made. Instead, we take a closer look at the people and practices behind our next purchase.

Gone are the days of looking at labels to produce clothes overseas or questioning a brand’s ethics due to distant production. We now focus on how our clothes are made, under what working conditions and with what materials. As one of the talented designers in this article reveals, “It’s not where your clothes are made, it’s how they’re made and who makes them.”


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There is certainly something quite “nice” to make locally in Australia. Obviously, it has a direct impact on the local economy and contributes to job creation. Working conditions meet Australian standards and the ease of visiting a production plant can help a brand ensure transparency in its supply chain. ‘Made in Australia’ also carries positive sentiment here and around the world, as a marker of build quality.

Yet local production is more difficult than you might think. Over the past few decades, a large number of Australian manufacturing facilities have closed. Along with these closures, the pool of skilled workers in Australia has also shrunk considerably. It may not be physically possible for a brand to manufacture locally, and even if it is, the cost of doing so could be prohibitive.

If a brand manages to find a manufacturer locally, the production of garments often involves a multitude of imported materials anyway. It can be the fabrics from which the garment is made or all the haberdashery (such as buttons, zippers, thread) that is used in its construction.

In simple terms, tthese are all reasons why a brand or a designer may choose to manufacture abroad. Here, four smart (and sustainability-conscious) designers explain how, where, and why they make their products the way they do. Their intentions are linked by a common thread: to create clothes that can be cherished, worn again and again, then repaired or passed on to someone else for a second life.

Elinor McInnes, founder of Joslin

How much of your clothing is made overseas versus locally in Australia?

Joslin produces all garments overseas, primarily in China and now in India.

Where do you make your clothes and why?

We firmly believe that it’s not where your clothes are made, but how they’re made and who makes them. We produce our garments in China for their strengths in modern technology, skill and traditional craftsmanship, attention to detail, high quality control, availability of raw materials close to factories, availability of dyehouses , printing companies and a wide range of trim suppliers. .

We are now producing in India due to their strengths in artisanal techniques, handicrafts, lace, beadwork and embroidery which will further expand Joslin’s product range.

As our business continues to grow, we recognize the importance of being proactive in supporting the rights of those involved in the manufacture of our garments, textiles, yarns, trims and raw materials. We are constantly striving to improve supply chain transparency. Joslin performs due diligence to ensure certification, traceability and authenticity, improved environmental conditions, social and ethical compliance and carbon footprint within our supply chain.

How is your brand handling the clothing waste crisis we are facing?

Joslin values ​​trans-seasonal and sustainable design elements to give clothing longevity, believing that no garment is ever meant to be worn just once. Joslin uses the same textiles, materials, trims and raw materials in every collection to eliminate dead animal waste. This is why you will see a minimal variety of crafts used. If one of Joslin’s manufacturers or factories overbuys or overproduces a textile, the overages will be cut into the next apparel purchase order instead of going to dead stock.

We proudly support Thread Together and other charities in ongoing clothing donations, keeping our excess inventory and deadstock circulating while dressing women in their most needed hour and supporting the community at broad sense during devastating events.

Brooke Testoni, founder of Rylan

How much of your clothing is made overseas versus locally in Australia?

All Rylan handbags are handmade in Northern Italy.

Where do you make your clothes and why?

We produce our leather handbags in Italy using premium quality Italian leather. It’s extremely important to me that Rylan handbags are defined by classic design and quality finishing to stand the test of time. Our extensive research and sampling initiatives have [shown us] the quality and finish from Italy is unmatched.

How is your brand handling the clothing waste crisis we are facing?

Our production aligns with orders placed through a very limited number of exclusive retail partners, and our online store features a selection of carefully curated styles. Fortunately, we sell most styles – we don’t experience excess stock buildup and maintain minimal inventory.

Erin Fitzgerald, Marketing Manager at Friends with Frank

How much of your clothing is made overseas versus locally in Australia?

The proportion between what we make locally and what we make overseas will differ with each season and the type of garments we produce. [that season]. For our upcoming Spring/Summer 22 collection, around 85% of the range is made with our local production partners and 15% overseas.

In autumn/winter, the proportion will return to offshore. For many years now, we have produced our signature overlays and knits with the same trusted overseas suppliers.

Where do you make your clothes and why?

We manufacture both locally here in Melbourne and with our production partners in China. For us, where we choose to manufacture depends on which of our suppliers is best placed to produce that type of garment.

We consider their area of ​​expertise, their technical capabilities, and the machinery and technology available to the supplier. For example, the majority of our knitwear we make with a foreign supplier, who creates beautiful knitwear. We have worked together for many years now, and find the quality incomparable to what we have been able to source locally; especially since knitting mills and machinery are harder to come by in Australia.

On the other hand, much of our clothing – linen trousers, blazers and shirts – is made here in Melbourne. The craftsmanship and attention to detail of our local manufacturers is a real strength.

Katia Kelso, co-founder of Ilio Nema

How much of your clothing is made overseas versus locally in Australia?

We produce all of our garments overseas due to the skill and techniques involved in making our pieces. The foundation of Ilio Nema is based on artisanal practices including hand-woven textiles, handicrafts and traditional techniques not found in Australia. We seek out the world’s finest craft techniques and celebrate the communities that have preserved them.

As our collection grows, we would like to make clothes in Australia, especially knitwear, because wool is such a big part of the Aussie ethos. Our intention is to limit our carbon footprint and produce clothing ethically, so if we use Australian wool it makes sense to knit it locally too.

Where do you make your clothes and why?

We work with artisan communities in India and Morocco using natural fibers such as cotton and linen. When producing in India, we use cotton grown by local farmers, then spun, woven and sewn locally and embellished by local artisans. Our production is vertical and this is the only way we think it should be done, to minimize the impact on the environment.

By working with artisanal communities, we support rural development, stimulate employment where opportunities are lacking and support production circles that are close to agricultural producers. Our partner factories are smaller, family-run [businesses] with highly skilled workers creating something that could not be done in Australia. Our hand weaving is done on traditional looms and [it] takes days to make a few yards of fabric.

Find more information about ethical Australian fashion brands here.

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