Some of Australia's best loved independent fashion identities have shut up shop recently, after struggling for years against skyrocketing overheads and punitive overseas minimums, but as Phoebe Garland writes, there's still cause for optimism.
Phoebe Garland co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion, a leading fashion agency based in Sydney. which also offers business mentoring & project management of marketing to the fashion industry. www.garlands.com.au
I recently formed a friendship, with the lovable and iconic fashion designer Jenny Bannister – who not long ago was honoured on a commemorative Australian postage stamp as one the Australian Legends in Fashion. Jenny and her business partner, celebrity stylist Phillip Boon, have created a weekly discussion event called Fashion Torque, covering a wide spectrum of key topics for the fashion industry from consumer to trade. One ‘Torque' topic that's particularly close to their hearts, and is shared by me, is a passion for encouraging independent retailers and emerging designers to succeed and survive in Australia. We all believe it's vital to highlight the significance of Made in Australia and the importance of keeping small manufacturers afloat; indeed, of keeping all aspects of the Australian fashion industry thriving.
Jenny's comments during one of my catch-ups with her in Melbourne recently paint a gloomy picture of how the demise of local manufacturing is creating a skills shortage, resulting in a vicious cycle that bodes ill for industry.
"Skilled production is what we fall short on. No one wants to sew anymore, and the people who can sew mainly work from home, as it is too expensive to run a year-round, full time factory, due to the cost of an Australian made garments being too high for the average Australian to afford. It's a no win situation. Australian fashion for the average Australian will have to be made off shore in cheap labour locations. Rents and wages are so high here, only the rich can afford designer made in Australia"
And Jenny should know! As an independent retailer and manufacturer, after her face appeared on the Australian Legends in Fashion stamp, her landlord doubled her rent, making it impossible for her business to survive. With the influx of overseas chains looking to Australia as a good opportunity to expand, it's more important than ever to keep our fashion industry thriving through innovative retailing and also supporting Made in Australia manufacturers. Recently we also saw another iconic fashion designer and retailer, Michael Bracewell closing his shops after 23 in business and leaving the industry saying "I have had enough. It's just too tough out there; there's no fun anymore – it's a constant struggle."
We have emerging designers graduating from colleges in a "catch-22" situation, unable to meet the minimum requirements of overseas factories and yet unable to find factories in Australia as so many are closing. I urge all retailers to support Australian Made labels as much as possible. Look at innovative retailing through online methods and, instead of competing with each other, work with other retailers in non-conflicting areas to exchange stock and lessen markdowns.
Let's work together to keep our independent Australian retailers, Australian factories and emerging Australian designers in business.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on how to support Made in Australia fashion, so please get in touch!