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Langsey Newsletter
Why We Are Not Ready to Bring Fashion Manufacturing Back to Australia

Recently I read an article about bringing fashion manufacturing back to Australia. There are many reasons we are eager to manufacture our garments locally – shorter lead time, better quality, and more reliable social responsibility, to name a few.

However, while I am always happy to see passionate people in the industry striving to bring manufacturing back from Asian countries, I don't believe we are ready to do so at this stage.

Why do I think fashion manufacturing must stay in China for the moment? 

The answer lies in China’s competitive business ecosystem.

The Chinese Fashion Industry’s Business Ecosystem

At present, China has a perfect business ecosystem within the fashion industry. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Australia at this moment in time.

In China, fashion production does not take place in isolation, but rather relies on networks of lots of different business partners in the production process.

Raw material manufacturing, grey fabric manufacturing, fabric dying, printing, embroidering, accessories (such as buttons and zips) supplying, label and packaging supplying… all this happens in different companies and factories.

The Lack of Fabric Manufacturers in Australia

In contrast, it’s much harder to find fabric manufacturers in Australia.

Last year’s 2017 Australia Market Research Report commented on the shrinking local textile and clothing manufacturing industries in Australia. While there are a few sewing and cutting factories in Australia, and you can also find some printing and embroidering companies, the network is simply not as comprehensive or competitive as it is in China.

Furthermore, for Australian designers, if you import everything from China and finish here in Australia, the cost of bringing in all those components is likely to be more than the cost of finishing a garment in China and shipping to Australia. And most packaging components, such as labels and packaging materials, are still being made in China.

Lead Times for Australian Manufacturing

When it comes to comparing the pros and cons of manufacturing in Australia versus China, we also need to consider lead times.

A shorter lead time is often considered to be one of the key benefits of manufacturing in Australia, rather than overseas. But are lead times really shorter? I don’t believe so.

Lead time does not only include the period of time spent cutting and sewing. We need to also think about the time spent waiting for all those other small components mentioned above, that are coming separately on different schedules.

Some Australian fashion companies choose to manufacture their garments in Bali, Indonesia, or Fiji, as they believe these places are geographically closer to Australia and they can enjoy shorter lead time.

But talking with the Textile, Clothing & Footwear Council of Fiji, I was told that while there were about forty cutting and sewing factories in Fiji, mostly manufacturing for Australian customers, all the fabrics and accessories were actually imported from China. This meant they could not fulfill a production order independently without partnering with Chinese suppliers.

Supporting Ethical and Sustainable Manufacturing

I believe it’s important for Australian fashion brands to take ethical and sustainable approaches. But I also believe in the importance of doing business in a cost and time effective way.

We also need to understand that offshore sourcing does not necessarily mean unethical or unsustainable. Here at Langsey, we only work with socially responsible factories in China. While sometimes the standard of these factories is based on developing countries’ standards, our goal is to help them meet global standards of social responsibility in the future.

Looking to the Future for Australian Manufacturing

It is my belief that bringing the whole industry upstream and downstream back to Australia, and making the Australian fashion industry self-sufficient or independent, is not realistic at this time.

I have full respect for fashion manufacturing practitioners in Australia. And I agree that they have the strengths to suit some types of fashion companies, such as luxury premium brand with small quantities.

However, I would like to see a future of global cooperation. Why not work together to make the global fashion industry more ethical, sustainable and effective? Why not have Australian brands go out of the country and sell to other market, including the Chinese market where their products are made? These are the questions I think we should be asking about the future of Australian fashion manufacturing.

Li Zhang
Langsey Company
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: +61 402 279 257


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