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Why Australian made? And a studio update...

Written by Sarah Garrett-Hodoniczky

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Posted on June 29 2021

I've always been passionate about making everything we do locally. Being Australian made was a non negotiable to me, I felt shipping garments long distances packaged in individual plastic bags was not sustainable and not the feel I wanted in my garments. I also want to be connected to our garments and know who's making them. 

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As you probably know, we produce all our garments within 30kms of our home studio. This way we can drive to pick them up in our little Caddy Van, they can be hanging on our recycled cardboard coat hangers or simply in bundles ready to be washed. We have worked with many makers locally since we started back in 2003, one wife and husband team we have worked with for 12 years.  Our production schedule was changed to no longer be seasonal, rather being consistent and giving the makers regular weekly/fortnightly work so they had a good work life balance. Over the past 3-4 years we ended up giving 100% of our work to our trusty team and this worked particularly well over Lockdown times etc because we were all still able to work as we all worked from home and we could simply drop off fabric, patterns etc to their garage and pick up from there too, contact free if needed. 

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However 2021 seems to be a year for change and we named our first couple of RANT collections, 'Branching Out' so I guess that's how it is...... we have had no option but branch out in a new direction because our makers quit due to a family situation requiring them to take a break from work! This happened a few months back, so only now have we found the perfect people to go forward with for the next decade. It was really hard to find the perfect people because I like to know who is actually sewing our garments and that they are going to be treated ethically, paid correctly and not overworked. The only way to ensure this is to work directly with the people who are doing the sewing, so this ruled out many of the options. Another issue was the ageing workforce, many of the people being in their 60's or like the gorgeous lady we used to get to sew our complicated garments being in her 70's.  

Through a few contacts I ended up connecting with the perfect girl, younger but with lots of experience in stretch fabrics. She is keen to learn, loves sewing, appreciates nice fabrics. Her attention to detail is awesome and I can see that I will be able to try new things and she will be up for the task. I'm someone who values long term working relationships as you can grow and learn from each other and I find comfort in having a history with certain people. 

(The pic below is my latest project, cutting panels from off cuts and small ends of rolls to make a new version of a couple of Bestowed styles. They are being sewn at the moment)

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Our other new production option is a local factory, but not a big churn them out type, but one where the owner is the cutter herself. We get to discuss everything in detail and they work out the perfect person to sew our things. We know the staff are paid Australian wages with all the benefits because our work is calculated at $60p/h. This covers the wages but also the running of the business and ensuring that the workers are in a safe work environment. When you compare these prices with off shore production most paid less than $1p/h, there is no comparison. It is far more costly to produce a garment here, but it is so worth it. I believe our garments wouldn't feel the same if mass produced off shore with the workers paid a pittance. 

As you know, we source many of our knit fabrics from the Melbourne knitting mills, especially ABMT textiles who have an amazing sustainable set up. I wrote a story about them last year when they were making our ethical merino wool. You can read it here.

(The 2 pics below are from ABMT textiles)

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This year we are also working with a new knitting mill, one that's close to us in Queensland. The fabrics we use are not ones they usually make, so they have had to source different yarn and they have been busy doing test runs on a few things. The first bulk order has now gone in and in a few weeks we will have a new Organic cotton knit specifically for our leggings, not sheer when doing yoga, soft on your skin and ... actually I will keep the most exciting part secret until we launch the new styles.

Another fabric the new mill is working on is a heavy weight Bamboo/spandex to make the bamboo Nellie Pants from. This style is sooooo good and we have had many emails asking when we plan to make more of them. I could only make them when a batch of our bamboo came through too heavy for tops! Apparently it's a hard fabric to work with (so the old mill used to say) and we basically had to get the fabric made, see what weight it was and then decide what we were going to make from it. This new mill say they can give us consistency in weight, so that will be great and make life easier. 

Working with this local mill will broaden our options of fabrics. They are keen to work with us and we are excited about having certain things we make 100% made in Queensland, bringing the production even more local. 

 

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Lately I have been back on the sewing machine, a lot more than usual! It's been needed during our production transition time and to work on lots of little upcycle projects that I have wanted to do. I usually only sew the samples and accessories like the Circle Belt shown above. Which is proudly made from a gutsy cotton webbing that is Australian made. However I have been making scarves, beanies and even some organic cotton Snoods. I really value being able to sew, it's a skill that has always been so handy and always gives me a sense of financial security too. I can make things if I need something, trade things I make if needed, it has got me through less prosperous times and I think sewing is a 'life skill', even though it's no longer taught in schools as it's not seen as a life skill in 2021! 

So, why Australian made? 

Because it's the only way we can ensure the workers are paid fairly and on the same wage scale as we expect and have a good work/life balance. 

Because we can quickly check out samples etc and have full control of quality of production. If there is any issue, one of us can be there to make a decision within 30 mins. 

Because our garments don't need to be shipped long distances. And they don't need plastic packaging to protect them, just our van to pick up stock. 

Because we need to be able to manufacture things in Australia again. 

Because it keeps the skills alive and valued. So many people have left the textile industry because production went offshore to cheaper labour. The more local production and the more people employed will encourage a new generation to learn sewing skills.

Because there are so many other people employed when labels are actually made here rather than 'Australian designed'. A label that 'designs' here will need minimal staff. If you produce here you need fabric to be made, dyed and sometimes printed. There are cutters & sewers, as well as people to quality control, tag the garments and for us there's also garment washing. We also get all our swing tags and care labels printed locally, so that's another industry that gets supported. 

Always ask the question before you purchase, or if you're able to, check the care label that will be stitched into the garment. What country was it actually made? I am sure you will be surprised that many labels that you think are made in Australia may only partially made here or not at all anymore. 

Thanks for all of you who support local production. 

Cheers,

Sarah 

Comments

2 Comments

  • Comment author

    Great story Sarah, you are in inspiration. I’m glad to hear you have found new people to work with to produce your beautiful ranges.

    Posted by Rachael Lee | July 05, 2021
  • Comment author

    Dear Sarah and team

    I love that you and your team continue to pursue and achieve an 100% Australian Made ethic.

    I note your comment about ‘Australian Designed’ and can only think this is to fool the consumer into believing that a product is actually Australian made, when unfortunately it’s not. I hate this phrase particularly because it’s a cop out. The same goes for the ‘Australian Owned’ moniker where I am particularly looking for the important words after, being ‘and Made’.

    I am pleased to say that, as you advise, I always check the tag on my garments before purchasing. However, with the ‘offshoring’ of most garment manufacturing it is difficult.

    It was interesting to notice during last year’s lockdown, of Australia’s almost total reliance of offshore manufacturing and leaving our country short, particularly of essential products such as face masks. You might recall the story of the one lone mask manufacturer left in Australia who had to ramp up production of masks with the help of the army to meet local supply. So maybe there might be some change

    Keep up the fantastic work you and your team do.

    Kind regards
    Belinda

    Posted by Belinda McKinnon | July 05, 2021
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