#893 Debate time part three – Made in New Zealand, who cares?

I was interested and quite surprised when I wrote about Jae Mills’ new label Commoners Alike, that one of the main talking points in the comments was how it’s all being manufactured in China. I come from a family of rag traders – on one side, my Auntie Debbie owns MOA in Grey Lynn, a company that’s been trading for over 21 years, proudly (and fiercely) manufacturing locally since its inception. On the other side, my Uncle Brent owns a company that creates ranges for shops like EZIBUY and The Warehouse, all manufactured in China. My first foray into the fashion industry was working for Little Brother, another New Zealand made product. I had my own label for a while which was all made in Auckland.

But I have to be honest. Made in New Zealand would never matter enough to me to be the difference between buying an item of clothing or not. I don’t have a lot of loyalty to the local manufacturing industry. While I do think it’s admirable if people persist in manufacturing here in New Zealand, I don’t know that the quality level is higher than manufacturing offshore, but the price certainly is.

So here are my questions to you:

Do you care about clothing made in New Zealand?
Do you prefer to buy clothing made in New Zealand?
Do you think the quality level matches the price demanded?
Is it an ethical consideration?
Are you willing to pay a higher price for clothing made in New Zealand?
Is the quality level of made in New Zealand clothing higher than that of clothing made in China?

Comment below…


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  1. Gen says

    Isaac, I was one of the first people to comment on the “Made in China” thing with that Commoners label because in my opinion the designer quite ingenuously said that there was no difference between a factory in Penrose and a factory in China as they were all staffed by workers of Chinese ethnicity anyway. This is patently ridiculous.

    I do buy clothes that are made in China (or elsewhere) but (a) I’d prefer to buy locally made garments and (b) if I do buy MIC I won’t pay top dollar. And I’d be very annoyed to buy a $350 skirt from a designer boutique and discover it was made in China – it would definitely put me off buying from that company again.

    I’d prefer not to buy garments made in China – not necessarily because of quality issues but because of ethical concerns about lack of worker protection. I don’t think clothes made off shore are necessarily of poorer quality – it depends on how rigorous the controls of the company are.

  2. says

    I agree with Isaac that it wouldn’t be quite a make or break thing for me. But I do resent the narrowing price bracket between the made in China and Nz stuff. I was looking in a store the other day at some cotton streetwear made out of a basic material, quite cleverly designed but made in china – the price? $300 for a jumper. There were sgf garments in similar style, all made in NZ on the same rack for almost the same price. Did the jumper fly first class over here?

  3. J says

    Most larger labels have shifted their sweatshop production to places like Bali and India cause China’s getting too developed and expensive.

  4. Jo says

    Personally I do favour items made in NZ over Chinese produced clothing.

    For me there is the quality-issue as I have found that due to the smaller quantities of clothing produced in NZ, the designer will often have far stricter QC procedures than mass-produced Chinese garments (or at the very least more time to check). However, I also share Gen’s views on the lack of worker protection and the idea of worker exploitation for offshore clothing.

    The one NZ designer that really “gets my goat” over this is Trelise Cooper. Her clothing often has shocking finishing and terrible quality-control as well as having prices that are among some of NZ’s highest. Clothing with splitting seams and no linings when you’ve paid over $500for a dress really drives me crazy!

  5. Anonymous says

    I have a womens and children retail store middle to top end. I find no one seems to care about the womenswear but childrens they like to be made in NZ which is hard as it cost so much here to have childrens made, we do our own label in store and customer do like that, but seem to think as it is made instore it should be cheaper. It is the knitwear I find really over price from China but I have to say the quality is so much better than NZ made knitwear and the yarns are much more interesting.I was not happy with very expensive european label I order and it arrived and all made in bloody India. I was pissed off as the customers really question that. what do you say” only in India they can do the beading”. I have dropped that label. You do have to be a bit careful

  6. says

    While it’s difficult to substantiate manufacturers’ claims, I do tend to prefer things that say “sweatshop-free”, regardless of where they are made.

    For example, we always use sweatshop-free for our band merchandise and get the screen printing done here in Auckland, although I don’t think the quality is too much different from Chinese producers. The service we get from our supplier in Auckland is great and it is nice to know that a couple of local lads get some extra hours.

    Maybe it’s just punks, but I’m amazed how many people ask about the origin of the shirts before buying.

  7. says

    There was a really good article published a while ago (I think in the herald) talking about extra little details to make your brand stand out during the recession.
    A big focus was on origin of garments and peoples interest in sweatshop free, sustainable, chemical free etc. Case in point Icebreakers Baa code system.

    All there garments are made in china but have a number on them you can type into the web that shows the origin of the garment including video interviews with the farmer and a look at the sheep the wool came from.

    Not sure how much impact this has actually had on there sales. But an interesting glimpse of the future perhaps? I know similar technology has already been discussed for use with packaged food.

    It seemed to me a nice little gimmick to reassure those worried about sweatshop labour and also to encourage those who are not worried to take an interest.

  8. Anonymous says

    i think it is going a bit far to see the bloody sheep you wool comes from for your sweater. But to be able to talk about the factories where the goods are made is good .We do that all the time,the childrens clothes made in the hills of the Himalayas made in a ethical run commune is a story that the customer loves and I can send them to a web page to look it all up

  9. MAD FOX IVY says

    well – Karen walker’s half collection is done in Hong Kong, China and no one’s complaining. Trelise Cooper is done in India and Hong Kong too. Business is business. if you don’t like it then don’t buy it. duh. I don’t get why we are debating this Isaac. everyone knows the answer to this topic. There will be more labels doing business with overseas. Every top international designers like Fendi, Donna Karen, Alexander Wang gets all made in China.


  10. Anonymous says

    shock! horror! an informative discussion! I’d better do the typical NZ overly PC thing and start throwing the “R” word round!

  11. Anonymous says

    Iremember there was a label that had on there swing tags.”made with love by sue in our sunny workroom in Christchuch” God it annoyed me, no machinist loves their job that much,Label has gone out of business

  12. gen says

    mad fox ivy are you a simpleton? it’s not racist to be concerned about working practices in China.

    It’s also quite sensible not to want to pay $350 for something that cost $5 to manufacture.

    Further, I was under the impression that most of Karen Walker’s range was made in NZ and only her sh*itty self plagiarising range was made off shore.

  13. Anonymous says

    There’s so much tall poppies when it comes to manufacturing off shore. Kidding around a bit there. On a more serious note, I’m more than happy to buy something manufactured in China or India, it really doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to me. But that could be completely ignorant on my behalf. How important is the manufacturing business in NZ? What would happen if it became completely obsolete? How big a dent would it make to the NZ economy etc? I think that can be the only real point to this argument, because quality is quality regardless of where it is made as people have pointed out, just because it’s made in NZ, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be amazing, and just because it’s made in a third world country, that doesn’t mean it will fall apart at the seams either. You pay for quality at the end of the day.

  14. Anonymous says

    just went and looked at the inside of the garments in my store over 60% made in China and that is top labels too, what do you do.

  15. Anonymous says

    Would be interesting if anyone who knows about manufacturing could provide an example of the true cost to get an NZ made piece of streetwear into your store vs. a made in china one?

  16. says

    I remember when I was making tee shirts for my label Two White Buddies, it would cost about $30-$35 per tee shirt to be cut, manufactured and printed. So by the time you’ve wholesaled it at $60 odd dollars, you’re looking at a tee shirt retailing for upwards of $130.

    When I looked into the same thing being made in China, it was about $12 AND you got cardboard swing tags too. So you could wholesale it for $30 and retail it at about $70

    But the minimums were obviously far higher.

  17. Anonymous says

    I found it would about $30 to make a t.shirt too. So I do buy in from a nz company thats brings them in for about $8-12 then get them printed for about the same price

  18. Anonymous says

    What about more technical pieces though, like twist form stitching and I don’t know things of that nature? Is that done on large-ish scales in NZ? How does Dayne (Zambesi) get his more crazy ideas mass produced? Off the top of my head they are the only label in NZ with truly interesting construction that, unless I’m mistaken, does all their manufacturing in NZ.

  19. Anonymous says

    Isaac, the reason you paid $30 to get cut was because YOU HAD SMALL NUMBER of garments to be cut. If you have numbers like 100+, you would be paying around $3 per style to be cut in NZ.

  20. says

    I work for a well known New Zealand fashion brand that proudly still manufactures all their garments in New Zealand.

    I never really understood the difference in Nz made, or clothing made in China until I read the book ‘Luxury lost its Lustre’ and started working for a purely Nz made company.

    I’m still quite happy to buy clothing that is made in China (can you imagine how many people would be jobless if people suddenly stopped buying it?!?!) But I never buy ‘fashion pieces’ and only really buy basics, you know, tees, shitty jeans etc that are made in China. Mainly because I have the opportunity to support the NZ fashion industry, and get something that I will literally love forever, on our shores. Basically, Ill buy shirts, Jackets, Waistcoats, Tailored trousers, and suiting only from Nz made. The quality is better, and quite frankly, I like wearing things that aren’t really available on a mass scale in other countries.

    Seriously guys, support NZ made products/garments, and NZ fashion that has its clothing made here.

    Somebody has to! If we don,t, who the fuck will?

  21. Anonymous says

    The person who asked about Zambesi getting their crazy ideas mass produced, the answer is that – they don’t. The crazy garments, probably only four in each size would ever be produced, giving you a total of 16 or 20 garments, because if more were produced they would never sell them all, and you would notice waaaaay more people wearing them, obviously.

    I work for a knitwear company here and basically, there is not really any way you can realistically mass produce knitted garments (high end basics such as merino-cashmere tunics, jumpers, etc) for a sellable price in NZ, especially getting the kind of quality that you would get from China.

  22. Anonymous says

    Don’t care about made in NZ or any other country for that matter. Being a global citizen I feel no patriotism toward any particular country.

    In terms of the ethical treatment of workers in any given country, it’s their governments problem; not mine.

  23. Fashion King says

    i totally agree with above anon 11:30pm. it’s their government’s problem not ours. If businesses want to do their production in else where other than NZ made, let they be :)

    I only look for quality and design. I don’t care about where it got made.

    I don’t afraid of change. Let more designers explore overseas production! So NZ designers can use better resource and compete with international market :)

  24. Gen says

    Nice Fashion King and Anon 11.30. As a “global citizen” I would have thought you might have some concern for your fellow human beings.

    fashion’s not shallow eh.

  25. Anonymous says

    Darling, Fashion is about the image and money (call it shallow) if you don’t want to be a part of it, leave. Right now 😉

  26. gen says

    Darling, it is possible to be fashionable and ethical at the same time. Granted, doing two things at once might be beyond you.

  27. says

    I like to buy from NZ designers – support our local talent and i genuinely love some of their work. And if it’s made in new zealand then that’s even better – I think supporting local economy is important.

    But I’m not rigid and puritanical about it. And I wouldn’t do it regardless of quality – things from both nz and china can be good, or terrible. I think there can be a balance. But it’s good to be aware and educated about it.

  28. says

    I have bought NZ made knitwear, made in a factory in South Auckland, and it was crap – the seams unravelled within weeks! However –

    Big brands in NZ/Aus are getting picky about the factories that they use now – they will make visits to the factories, and have international independent surveys done on the factory, which looks at worker’s rights, manufactoring quality, etc etc. The technology coming out of China is amazing now, and while there are still those sweatshops out there, those are becoming less and less common in face of consumers being far more ethical than they used to be, and brands wanting better quality for the quantities that they have to order in order to make in China.

    buying NZ made is nice and feel-good and all, but the thing about it is that you can’t have some of the flexibility of what you can do in China if you’re a brand making clothing.

    And besides, while it may seem unethical to buy from a country where the majority of their citizens are in extreme poverty, at least there are places that exist where they can earn money to buy the basic needs for their families. Sweatshops obviously aren’t the answer to that, as they just over-work their workers, but the big factories that actually look after their workers are providing those people with an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Western consumerism.

  29. says

    you cant knock out the old Made in C quality issues these days- there is no doubt their manufacturing can b as sophistctd as anywhere- something most Nz manus would find hard to match.

    BUT…it’s the ethical considerations for me kids- I like to kow me garb is made by craftspeople where ever poss and that people aren’t being exploited in some far off corner out of the prying eyes of the media.

    there is no way NZ manus can compete price wise but I like to support them and our designers wherever poss- even if it costs me 5x$!besides your getting quality design,cut and fabrications (hopefully)

    maybe if people focused on buying quality design instead of truckloads of disposable crap from China we cold realistically have a niche craft industry of the Italian mould?

    actually I’m also happy to but Made in Euro designer gear for the same reasons. second hand too for ethical sustainable reasons and the quality of some of the old tailoring is better than anything contemporary. the only Made in C products I buy are socks and undies mate- and only ’cause there is little other option.


    fashion shouldn’t be about trends- it should be revelling in the craft and quality of beautiful design

  30. Anonymous says

    i love my made in china chuck taylor, nike, CK underwear, Karen walker china made glasses, china made Alexander Wang. :) does that sound wrong to you guys? meh. China made is such an old news to me. So funny how NZ is debating about this whereas others did 10yrs ago..

  31. Anonymous says

    If every one produced off shore there would be no manufacture’s, cutters etc here and it would make it virtually impossible for a new designer to get anything off the ground.
    Minimums for China can be anywhere from 100- 500 units per style and that is pip squeak stuff for them. It’s great to support the industry you are in. Who really wants to be stuck having only the option of wearing mass produced watered down Supre crap?

  32. gen says

    Isacc if I were you I’d be really concerned about the level of intellect of my readers. You have some real numpties on here.

    viz: “So funny how NZ is debating about this whereas others did 10yrs ago..”

    err, it’s still a live issue, muppet.

  33. Anonymous says

    @gen above,

    yeah still a live issue but fashion is about change and so should you, country girl.

    Remember what Karl Largerfield said!? Fashion = change.

  34. says

    I’m going to make some straight-forward points:

    + Designers now have to think more intelligently if producing their clothes overseas is more sustainable for their business in the long-run. If quality in expansive production can be met, then it can be one viable route. (i.e. I was at firstly surprised when Wang’s garments said Made in China but how much would his clothes cost if all were made here? And also some of his pieces are basics)

    + It is a concious decision to make your clothes locally or abroad. If you decide like quite a number making the individual decision to make the clothes in NZ or wherever else, then retail prices are more expensive and also as a result a mark in quality. If individually-run businesses in textile/wool/production have been doing it for years, how could they do it for a lesser price?

    + Sometimes the necessary skillset and technical know-how is non-existent or has become extinct and therefore need to be sent to China or elsewhere. Where to choose fabrics from and from which mill?

    + It can be difficult to spot the difference between a high-end marketed garment made in China or a top European textile pedigree but by the same token, the best houses or designers seek to produce their garments at the best, top-standard factories and mills in China. Whilst we say Made in China is bad, it’s also really bad if QC is not stringently met! The large European houses use similar mills over there.

    + Cost feasibility: Seek Italian yarns and fabrics then ship to China or back to your abode? Employee wages? Also, Life Cycle? If you make a garment using NZ wool, make the entire garment in NZ right?

    + Quality of Made in NZ than China: depends on what kinds of clothes? It comes right down to the individual designer or label to ensure that OUR standards are met.

    + Quality of garments: Can or are you able to put your trust in the designer or brand?

  35. says

    gen said…
    Darling, it is possible to be fashionable and ethical at the same time. Granted, doing two things at once might be beyond you.

    Love it!

    Seriously, the best thing about this article is that so many people are actually discussing the options, therfor looking at the pros and cons. I personally design and manufacture here in NZ and although I believe the quality in China can be impeccable and it is bloody hard to manufacture purely NZ made, I know that I can speak to my workers on a regular basis, I know they are happy, and I also know those businesses aren’t funding things such as puppy mills,harsh pesticide farming practices and the fur trade (yes we are an eco company)…

    There is so much more involved than simple quality, we buy organic, free range, un dyed, ethical materials…it is amazing what toxins go into clothing and leeches into your bloodstream, the children that are used to farm these organic cottons overseas are under serious health strain…and at the end of the day I don’t want to mass produce knowing I am adding to this. The pesticide poisoning of farmers in india is HUGE all from growing cottons, for t-shirts and such. Take a look into it, these people are driven by designers, are not properly aware of the hazards, and are being taken advantage of by western society. India, China, its all the same to me, if I can’t be there everyday, and know what is happening in my warehouses, I can’t SAY I am being ethical.

  36. Jojom7 says

    Hi i think we need to open our eyes and see that it matters if it being made in china for one simple reason-they use human labor where people there now try to commit suicide to end their life of misery to bosses who treat them less than animals and make them work almost permanently in shops then put them in a room somewhere together with others-no hme to go to! sleep a little before getting up again just to make that $20.00 top  that is thrown away quickly and they get only paid 60 cents a day! so yes it matters!! stop this type of human trafficking and slavery-let’s buy clothes that are slave free:)

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