Field Notes

#WhoMadeMyClothes - Standard Issue

24 April 2017

Posted in: Industry, H&F Presents, Environment

The last week of April kicks off Fashion Revolutions ‘Who Made My Clothes’ Week. The one week yearly that encourages consumers to ask fashion brands, who made my clothes. The consumers then hope for the response from these brands to find out who was behind their clothing item.

Hawes & Freer are taking part in this global campaign, to showcase NZ designers. Who are the people in the NZ fashion industry? What is their background and do they value the importance of NZ made clothes as much as other Kiwis do?

We have the answers. New Zealand meet the people behind your NZ made clothes. 

Janine Nuku – Design & Development – Standard Issue

How long have you been involved in the industry and where did you start?

I have been in the knitwear industry for 35 years! My first job was as a junior machinist at Earlybird Knitwear. The NZ clothing industry was thriving in those days, they were fantastic times with lots of opportunities and great people to work with. Being young and eager to learn, certainly opened lots of doors while learning all aspects of knitwear manufacturing, from design to knitting to construction. 

I moved on to eventually become head of design at Private Collection, where I have been working for the past 25 years, apart from a break to have children. These days I work part time in a more technical role.

How do you think the fashion industry has evolved over the years?

Gosh, I could write a book on that! We could start at the industrial revolution but let’s fast forward to the 80’s when I began. 

In the 80’s, there were lots of wonderful talented NZ designers and plenty of fabulous boutiques with their own unique styles. NZ was certainly influenced by overseas trends, but we also had our own Kiwi take on fashion and there was money to be made.

There were many large manufacturing companies that employed thousands of people all around NZ. If you bought it in NZ, it was most likely made in NZ. The clothes were beautifully made by skilled machinists, and the fabrics were of excellent quality. If you bought a woollen jumper, the yarn would have been grown and spun in New Zealand. 

The biggest change came to manufacturing when import tariffs were lifted and cheap clothes began to poor into NZ. Lots of companies couldn’t compete and closed down. When you stop and think how cheap imports have changed the industry, think about all the businesses associated with manufacturing a garment, from the yarn to make the fabric, to the pattern makers, to the cutters and machinists. Think about the suppliers to the industry, the fabrics, the zips, the buttons, the threads, the printed labels. All these businesses create jobs and so much has been lost to cheap overseas imports. Fashion has become fast and cheap in so many ways.

In saying that, there are still a few successful manufacturers in NZ who have found their niche in today’s market, and Standard Issue is one of them!

What does it mean to you to know that you are making high quality garments in NZ?

I am extremely proud to be making knitwear in NZ! First and foremost, I love that I can work directly with the knitting technicians and machinists when developing new styles. With knitwear, we start with an idea and a cone of yarn, so to have all this machinery and skill-set under one roof is invaluable. In fact I would say it has been crucial to our success. Many of the people I work with have been here for many years. Together we are a formidable team with specialised skills that have become rare in our industry.

Do you think there is enough awareness in NZ about garments being made locally and the importance of this?

There is definitely very little awareness in NZ about locally made garments. I believe most people in NZ assume all clothes are now made offshore. In fact the majority of the clothes in their wardrobe; whether they be designer brands or cheap chain store labels, probably are made offshore. However, there is a trend happening. People are slowly becoming more conscious of how their buying can influence their local economy. Certainly social media plays a huge role in this. People want to know where their food comes from, and I believe they do also think about where their clothes come from, but the choice has been taken away from them. 

Certainly our customers know that when they buy our garments, they are choosing beautifully made, top quality garments made out of the best yarns on the market, with the added bonus of being NZ made, and that’s why they come back for more! 

With so many clothing brands out there, has working in the NZ industry emphasised the importance of NZ made clothes to you?

Definitely, I can’t bear to look at chain store brands. It frightens me! You only have to look at the massive outlet stores that are overflowing with “throw away fashion” to feel overwhelmed by the waste, and at what cost to the world? NZ clothing manufacturing was once a thriving industry. It supported jobs and families and paid more than a living wage. I have always supported NZ made. This is my job. 

Why is it important that people know where their clothes are made?

It is important to know where your clothes are made so that you can make an informed choice before you buy. Do I want to pay $15 for a tee shirt which I know is ridiculously cheap, and ignore the fact that someone worked for next to nothing so I could have a bargain? No, I won’t buy that tee shirt, because I know what it takes to make a garment. Do I want to pay more and buy less? Yes, when I know that the person who made my clothes is being fairly paid for their work. In my opinion, unless you are prepared to lower your own standard of living, then don’t buy into it.

At the end of the day, the consumer dictates the market.

I made your clothes. 

Janine Nuku

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