#1835 Are New Zealand designers giving the consumer value for money?

Photo: Katherine Lowe

Do you know what I like about Australians? They tell it like it is. If they’ve got an opinion about something, they’ll say it out loud, and they’ll put their names to it. (New Zealanders always want to be quoted anonymously.) On Saturday, one day after Rosemount Australian Fashion Week had wrapped, The Australian published a piece quoting Vogue editor Kirstie Clements and Australian Fashion Week founder Simon Lock saying that the local industry was in dire straits. The problem? According to Lock, “People want to come to fashion week and find things that are different to what they see in Europe and North America.” Judging from the majority of the fashion seen last week, most of the designers had spent their summers studying the European and North American collections a little too closely. For the record, Raf Simons at Jil Sander should feel mighty proud for having influenced so many of them.

In Clements’ opinion, the arrival of major chainstores will hurt local designers. “Zara opened two weeks ago and people were lining up at the door – and there are still queues around the block for those clothes. Zara has got that point of being on trend and at a lower price point, and a lot of Australian designers in the middle ground are going to have to lift their game if they want to compete, or get out.”

The latter also applies to New Zealand designers. There’s a catch 22 situation at hand: many of our mid-level or young and upcoming brands are committed to producing their collections in New Zealand. While admirable, in doing so they’re forcing the consumer to make a tough decision – pay a lot more for Kiwi-made garments, or pay a lot less for equally well-designed and constructed garments from a chainstore. With the onset of easy online shopping (now that companies are starting to ship down under), who is going to pay $500 for a dress when they can get something similar for $180? It’s a no-brainer. And let’s face it: it’s not like us New Zealanders are rolling in money right now.

It all comes down to value for the consumer. If a designer wants to sell a dress for $500, that dress has to be worth $500. The fabric, fit and make all have to look at least three times as good as the $180 dress hanging on the rack at Topshop in The Department Store. Same goes for a mens’ tailored jacket. Do not attempt to sell a poorly fitting blazer in a low quality wool for $600. It’s simply not worth it to the customer.

Like Simon Lock said, designers have to show the world original, fresh designs. But they also have to retail them at some semblance of a realistic price point. If they don’t, they’ll become extinct.

And that’s why I think that Jae Mills at Commoners Alike is doing the smartest brand in New Zealand right now – fashion forward, price pointed basics that have a near 100% sell-through at retail.

(Disclaimer: my inclusion of a Stolen Girlfriends Club runway shot above is not a passive aggressive stab at the brand. I just liked the photo.)


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  1. hyu says

    this is a really really great, necessary post. I know blog comments can come off insincere sometimes and this is all I can come up with in response, so just to emphasise/reiterate/clarify (can’t think of the suitable word right now) THIS IS A REALLY REALLY GREAT POST!

  2. says

    I think being committed to making their clothes in New Zealand is a point of difference for designers, and influences a few people into buying their stuff. In saying that, it is hard for me to justify a $300 Standard Issue cardigan, despite the fact I know its a good quality, kiwi made brand. Do you have a way for designers to combat pricing themselves out of the market? Or will well made kiwi clothes become a smaller niche market?

  3. Louise says

    I’m giving you a standing ovation for this post. You’ve hit the nail right on the head and managed to perfectly express what I am sure a lot of frustrated shoppers are thinking. In fact I had to show this post to my mum, and she said she could hug you right now.

  4. Louise Wilson says

    I completely agree, I buy most of my clothes and shoes online. You are always taking a chance but high fashion at a lower price point is like you said, a ‘no brainer’. Plus you can often pick up up clothes on sale from the northern hemisphere before the season starts. I would love to spend all my money on Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester but mine and most ppls budgets don’t stretch that far. Love this post.

  5. MisteR says

    Well it’s sad to see you all think like this.

    The bottom line is…..Making clothes in NZ costs a lot more than making them in a developing country. Just like fashion made in Italy or France costs more. The reason for this is that we respect each others human rights and have people looking out for us on a government level, therefore our minimum wage is a lot higher than those countries I need not mention.

    If you and the rest of NZ were willing to drop your wage by about 90% I’m sure those NZ designers could make that $500 dress for even less than $180.

    Just for a minute think about how many people are involved in making a garment in NZ……and each of those people need to be paid at least $13.00 per hour.

    I like to buy NZ made designer clothing because I can see all the love and hard work that’s gone into it and I know that each cent I pay goes back to someone in NZ, not a rich overseas fatcat.

    The thing is, if more people bought NZ made fashion, designers would produce larger quantities and therefore get a lower manufacture price which would result in a lower RRP.

    So the real question is NOT…..

    ‘Are NZ designers giving the consumer value for money’?


    ‘Are the NZ designers ripping off the consumer’?

    No they’re not! Most prices are true reflection of manufacturing costs in NZ.

    Because the real scandal is those shops like Top Shop who are making that dress in China for around $5 a piece and selling it to you for a bargain $180! Now who is getting ripped off??

    They’re not……but you and those Chinese workers are!

    Ps. I’m not an Aussie but happy to put my name to this.

    Ra Thomson and Mickey Lin from MisteR.

    We make, design all our wears only in NZ and love it!


  6. isaaclikes says

    This is a fair call, and I try to wear as much New Zealand-made clothing as I can (though I’m lucky that I get good prices on most of it).

    The problem for me is when you have designers selling clothing for unjustifiably high prices – ie. if the quality isn’t there, the fit is bad or the fabrics feel cheap.

    High labour costs can’t always be blamed. My Aunt owns a New Zealand-made label (Vesta – it’s part of the Moa collective in Grey Lynn) and she retails her clothing for far cheaper than any of the designers that show at Fashion Week.

    Wholesaling might be the problem?

  7. MisteR says

    Hi Megan,

    Just quickly want to break down the cost of that $300 Cardigan, so…..

    RRP = $300.

    GST of $45. goes IRD = $255. remaining

    Shop always takes half & designer gets other half = $127.5. remaining

    Out of that$127.5

    Lets say it takes 4hrs to make this cardigan, at $13.hr thats $52. = $75.5 remaining.

    Lets say the wool cost is $20 = $55.5 remaining

    Buttons $2. = $53.5 remaining

    Label $1 = $52.5 remaining

    Then there’s courier costs $2 = $50.5 remaining

    Packaging costs $0.5 = $50. remaining

    Out of that $50. must come….

    Phone, Power, Rent Costs.

    Marketing Costs.

    Other staff costs (like accountant/pattern maker/sales…etc)

    Sewing Machine maintenance cost

    And the list goes on :-)

    Probably leaving the designer with around $25. Profit

    So when you break it down like this $300 doesnt go very far!

    Big ups to Standard Issue for making wonderful knitwear right here in NZ.

    From Mickey and Ra at MisteR

  8. MisteR says

    Agreed! Just because it’s NZ made doesn’t mean its worth a million bucks!

    The quality must equal the price paid. Which I also agree is not always the case with some NZ made clothing.

    But like all clothing you just have to check that the quality is there be fore you buy, whether its made here or overseas.

    Yip wholesaling does mean the costs are going to be higher because retailer takes a big cut but not everyone is able to have their own store.



  9. Guest says

    I think that designers have to earn their right to charge the extra amount for clothing, and to do this they have to show they can give the customer good quality clothes that are going to last. I purchased a coat from Ruby boutique the other day for $400, which was a nice design, but later found out that it was made in China. To add to my disappointment 2 of the buttons fell off after wearing it for about an hour. Here I was expecting to support a NZ designer to have it thrown in my face with cheap labour costs and a poor quality garment.

  10. Stephanie says

    This, this, this. It really disheartens me that a brand like Ruby Boutique, which was previously made in NZ, has made the sly change to producing in China. If I want a ‘Made in China’ coat made from a cheap wool blend, I’m not going to pay $500 for it.

  11. isaaclikes says

    To be fair, I have clothing that was made in China that’s better quality than expensive clothing that was made in New Zealand.

  12. says

    About 90% of the clothes I buy are from NZ designers, for these simple reasons that: 1. I want to support our industry, 2. quality quality quality, 3. the aesthetic suits our lifestyle and fashion signature here, 4. we have abysmal chainstore offerings available, 5. Trade Me is a wonderful thing for my wallet and the environment. That being said, over the past couple of years, it has been my feeling that as some NZ designers become more popular and internationally marketable, their prices have gone up significantly and the quality fallen. This in turn, has driven me to veer towards online shopping for alternatives from international designers (of greater established caliber and acclaim) who offer superior quality and a price comparable to local garments. In fact, even Karen Walker garments are made in China with the occasional dubious quality. Something has to give because our industry is unfortunately driving their sales away by the lack of competitiveness in quality, design, and price point.

  13. Grant says

    Yeah, yeah. This is the photo that I think is superb. It’s je ne sais quoi, it’s Maxfield Parrish, it’s … KATHERINE.

    Love it.

  14. Al says

    I live in London where in recent times a lot of NZ brands have found stockists, whether online on the likes of Asos.com or in boutiques, or department stores like Liberty’s. I think it’s really fantastic, but I fear their price points are too expensive for most people to afford. There are many great mid-range boutique labels here like YMC, or Sessun who sell beautiful dresses for about £100-200 ($200-400 NZD), which for the average girl here is still a little expensive but relatively affordable. I think it’s in this price range that NZ labels should aim to be. You might make less per dress, but you’d be selling loads more of them, and you’d still be selling them to a discerning audience too.

    There are so many brands fighting for attention here and Londoners are very fashion conscious, but they don’t need to spend a lot of money to look good. Urban Outfitters, Topshop, H&M, Uniqlo, Asos.com all offer on-trend clothes that far surpass the offering we have in NZ. If a boutique NZ label wants to have an impact globally, it needs to do a little more than just make great clothes, it needs to be realistic about how much people can afford to pay for them too.

  15. M Park44 says

    That’s $25 profit per cardigan. If they sold 50 in a season = $1250. That’s not even including the other items in the entire collection.

  16. Carl says

    I think there are some great NZ designers that do offer value for money providing the quality, fit, fabric, feel, design and longevity to match the price tag, while others do fall short in these areas. I also believe a distinction needs to be made between NZ designers and those NZ designers that are also ‘Made in NZ’, as the costs to produce will be significantly different.
    I for one agree with the comments made by MisteR and am also very happy to pay a premium for a quality NZ made product (that meets all of the high quality standards expected) as I would rather support NZ, NZ’ers and the NZ economy, to keep the industry alive here and help retain those skilled individuals (who we know are paid fairly and have good working conditions!).
    I have a question for those designers that used to be NZ made and then go offshore (usually quietly…) to supposedly significantly reduce costs, why do their RRP s never reduce? I also wonder if they consider the negative impact they have on the NZ apparel and textile industry?
    In the end it comes down to each of us as a consumer to make conscious and informed decisions on what is ‘value for money’, as this is what will determine the future of NZ made and the NZ designer market.

  17. A M_ says

    short answer.. yes. If you mean the Barkers little brother. Only because you’re paying $650 for a chinese made, mass produced product from a factory that make 10,000’s of garments a month and have many different names tacked on the inside.

    Without the population base here, we cannot compete with the efficiency of making huge numbers at once.
    What we can do is quality, but I don’t think NZ made means the same as it use to 20 years ago and I often find chinese made products of equal or higher standard.

    This post and associated comments seam negatively directed at designers.
    The truth is it has become expensive to make a garment in NZ, and we are loosing or have lost our perception of quality, our pride in craftsmanship.
    I am exhausted by our lack of sartorial education and our low-brow, small thinking I too often encounter.

    In a country where Barkers is considered ‘the standard’ or even risqué, I start to think we are just lost, and the Chinese can keep there monopoly on manufacturing; low end and more-and-more high end quality goods too.

    I believe manufacturing standards have dropped, and maybe we don’t know how to make something of quality anymore. Maybe we no longer have the skills, or the technology and maybe… we just don’t care enough to.

    It costs too much to make something of just passable quality. Please someone helps us…

  18. Derekhendreson says

    why not just increase the population of new zealand by 10,000,000 and the domestic market place would work a whole lot better.

  19. A M_ says

    That also costs them $275 for every cardie they don’t sell. Hardly worth them making cardies with that risk. Which is where a lot of small NZ businesses find themselves.

  20. Jimmy says

    you can get crap quality made anywhere. Having it made in China doesn’t means its rubbish, Made in NZ is not always quality. etc etc…..

  21. Jimmy says

    my answer is yes too but no, those suits are made in their specs just for them but still horrifically over priced for what they are. I call them
    “toy suits” which means they’re just for fun or to get the casual smart look. No real suit wearer that is use to wearing suits all the time would buy it. They’re targeting uneducated noobies.

    but AM is sooooo right in we are loosing our skills. it’s no longer a price problem that is driving our manufacturing off shore but we simply cant do it.

  22. Amanda says

    Perhaps another way to look at it is like this; are we becoming too accustomed to “fast” fashion as the norm? Where on a daily basis we are subjected to shopping as a sport, where we must keep abreast of trends – nay, we must stay in advance of the latest trends. There is no desire to buy good quality clothing at a higher price point, when you buy 1-2 new items each pay. As a worker in a high end boutique all too often I hear “You could buy 3 for that price in Max”. It seems as consumers we have an underlying mentaility that more is better, and who can afford that at NZ made prices? Just a thought.

  23. Anonymous says

    Just like ANY clothing market there are cheaters.

    Karen Walker, Workshop, Trelise cooper and Ruby all manufacture between 30% and 100% offshore, and based on the fact that advertising fair trade is a good marketing and publicity stratergy one would assume that they all use the cheapest manufacturing offshore available. This means that their profit could potentially have trippled, and because YOU don’t care to check the inside labels before you purchase these garments. They seem to be getting away with keeping their retail prices super high season after season with little justification.

    Retailers may mark up 225% but what you all seem to be forgetting is that retailers have to go on sale to survive, and no matter what price they sell garments for they must still pay the non negotiable wholesale price. Generally speaking between 25% and 30% of stock in the shop will not sell in a season, imagine in a recession. . . . How much do you think retailers make on a dress you buy for $200 on sale down from $600 when the mark up is 225% ?
    -$66.70, and they (surprisingly!) also have to pay for things like rent, power, staff etc

    New Zealand Designers like Zambesi, Nom*D, Kate Sylvester and World have stayed true to their intentions, and are all 100% manufactured locally, yet still price competitive with the likes of karen walker and Trelise Cooper.It seems as though everyone is putting them into the same category.

    Its about conducting research to find out if you really are getting what you pay for before you choose to make a purchase.

  24. Shoe Vulture says

    I don’t think some of the New Zealand designers give you the quality that should correlate with the price tag. In saying that, it is very hard and expensive to launch a fashion label and many may not be able to afford the fabric that you would associate with the price. It is Catch-22. The money isn’t there to support burgeoning labels and they can’t afford to put in the fabric and quality craftmanship that you would hope for with a $600 + price tag

    For bargain hunting check out http://shoevulture.blogspot.com/

  25. Stephanie says

    Fair enough. But the coat in question wasn’t very well made. The sleeves were uneven and bubbly. I showed my friend who sews a bit, and she said that they used a technique that was quick and cheap, but didn’t work well on heavy fabrics.

    I agree that there are some nice made in China items, but they’re I don’t think they’re really the norm.

  26. Stephanie says

    This, this, this. It really disheartens me that a brand like Ruby Boutique, which was previously made in NZ, has made the sly change to producing in China. If I want a ‘Made in China’ coat made from a cheap wool blend, I’m not going to pay $500 for it.

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