Kiwi fashion designers are hoping shoppers’ desire for something locally made will allow them to head off growing competition from fast fashion retailers. International brands such as H&M and Zara have recently entered New Zealand with bricks-and-mortar stores and online players are carving out a bigger share of the fashion dollar. That has left some New Zealand designers scrambling to keep up. Miriam Seifert, a PhD student at the University of Auckland, is conducting research on the fashion industry,
READ MORE: Kiwi shoppers told: T-shirts shouldn’t be $3
She said a growing number of New Zealand designers wanted to make their clothes here, but it brought challenges.
“The industry lacks manufacturing skills and capacity in so many ways that this makes it very difficult for some designers to produce here,” she said.
“Manufacturing here in New Zealand is often very cost-intensive for designers unless they are able to use machines to reduce these costs.
“This has an influence on the price point of the clothes made here and the target group of these companies.”
She said that meant New Zealand designers did not bother to compete with fast fashion stores.
Instead, they targeted a different type of shopper.
“[They] are in their own little niche providing clothes or fashion that is very unique, high quality, often lasts much longer and is not trend dependent than the fast fashion trends.
“Customers for these niche fashion companies are in their late 20s [or older], who are professionals that are looking for unique and quality styles, which they cannot get from mass produced H&M stores.
“Some of these customers are also very well-educated about environmental issues as well as environmental issues in the industry and they are looking for an alternative and these companies provide these customers with a choice.
“Therefore, they are not really competing with fast fashion since their target market is very different from many fast fashion retailers in the industry.”
Yvonne Chan, head of fashion at AUT, said the fashion courses that her department ran had a growing focus on helping students manage business challenges, as well as design ones.
“They learn about how to think outside the box, starting a new business, looking at the market where there might be a gap. We try to teach our students to be resilient to change and to be entrepreneural.”
Leanne Greaves, who runs women’s fashion brand Liann Bellis, said when she first started in fashion, there was a core industry in New Zealand making clothes and providing jobs for local people. But much of that work had been lost. “I really feel, the way that fashion is now, it’s contributing to polluting the world. Fast fashion is not healthy.”
She said, although it would be much cheaper to ship production of her clothes offshore, she was passionate about keeping it in New Zealand. “I could make a lot more money and do a lot more volume but for me it’s not about that.”
A growing group of customers sought sustainable fashion and gravitated to designers they could connect with, she said. “I think that women with any intelligence realise they need to buy something that is more serviceable and doesn’t fall apart and lasts more than one season – it’s value for money.
“Its getting those customers, who do have the extra money to spend, to realise that fashion needs to be sustainable, not just become landfill.”
She said she had had to tweak her offering slightly. “It makes you more conscious about the styling of your garments and focus on what people want. The average size in New Zealand is a size 16 but that’s not well served, it’s a difficult market to create for because size 16 falls into the top end of the normal range but the bottom of the plus-size.”
Julia Lomas, brand manager at Storm, which is designed in New Zealand but manufactured offshore, said it was noticeable that tourists wanted to buy clothes that were at least designed here.
She said the arrival of H&M and Zara had affected the industry but Storm’s customers had proved to be loyal. “Our customer is probably a bit older and they know that our fits and cuts suit them.”
She said it was too expensive to manufacture clothes in New Zealand.