Oh my goodness I am overwhelmed with New Zealand’s desire to support local businesses at the moment, it truly warms my heart! Just check out the New Zealand Made Product Facebook page to see what I mean.
This rise of support has opened up a lot of debate about the phrase “made in New Zealand” and what it actually means! I haven’t added a lot to the debate up until now, but have read a lot of comments and feel compelled to share a bit about what the phrase means, particularly for fashion brands. Just because you may be buying from a New Zealand business, perhaps even with a uniquely New Zealand or Māori name, does not necessarily mean you are buying a made in New Zealand product.
"Where a product is made is a question of fact and degree. For clothing, it is typically where the fabric is turned into a garment. For footwear, it is typically where the fabric or leather is turned into a shoe.
If items of clothing or footwear are made in one country but designed in another, the label cannot claim the country of design as the country of origin. For example, a dress cannot be labelled made in New Zealand if it was designed in New Zealand but sewn into a dress overseas.”
"A New Zealand company” does not necessarily mean “made in New Zealand”.
There are so many types of fashion companies you can buy from in New Zealand.
Those who aren’t New Zealand based at all, but do ship here from their online store - not New Zealand made
Those who have retail stores in New Zealand but are based offshore - not New Zealand made
Those who design product in New Zealand, are based in New Zealand but manufacture off shore - not New Zealand made
Those who are based offshore but manufacture their product in New Zealand for the New Zealand market (did you know that we used to manufacture Dior garments in New Zealand, see the New Zealand Fashion Museum for more)- are New Zealand made
Those who design and make their own product here in New Zealand - are New Zealand made
It is easier than ever to design a product here in New Zealand and have it made offshore. The quantities to order aren’t nearly as high as they once were making offshore production accessible and (usually due to price) desirable to a lot of people starting their own fashion brand. This is great for getting innovative New Zealand designs produced and onto the market, creating a much more diverse New Zealand fashion landscape.
With our globally connected world, it is easy to buy from anywhere with one click of a button. It is your right as a consumer buying clothing in New Zealand to know where that product was manufactured, what fibre the garment is made from and the care/laundering requirements of the clothing. This is New Zealand regulation for any new clothing available for purchase in New Zealand (see the Commerce Commission for more information), whether its in a shop, online, or at markets. It is required by law to have this information easily available to someone viewing the product for purchase. Unfortunately I have seen too many cases of online stores in particular that are not making this information easily available; and at the moment a lot more people are shopping online. If you are shopping online and cannot see where the garment is made, do ask, if you do not get a response then it is your right to lodge a complaint with the commerce commission. From a wee bit of research I have found the only sites showing their country of origin easily (as in on each product page) are those made in New Zealand. It’s fairly safe to assume that if someone is not showing this information easily, then it is not made in New Zealand.
Upon starting KoiNo I decided to manufacture in New Zealand. At the moment this looks like me manufacturing everything in my home studio (and occasionally on the move at pop up shops), in the future it will mean employing staff to manufacture on site or working with New Zealand factories, ideally the former. There are a number of reasons why I decided to keep manufacturing in New Zealand. By manufacturing in New Zealand, particularly manufacturing onsite, I can be sure that all KoiNo garments are produced in a safe working environment. New Zealand has a high standard of employment laws that give workers rights that aren’t always available in countries where a lot of the world’s clothing is made, read more about this in my fashion revolution week post here. I’m super proud of the talent and ingenuity in New Zealand and want to continue to build into the industry and economy here.
My materials are not all New Zealand made. Unfortunately there is very limited fabric manufacturing happening in New Zealand anymore. When I first started KoiNo I bought what was left of Levana’s made in New Zealand knitted cotton but they, and Designer Textiles (my other hope for sourcing made in New Zealand fabric) had both recently taken all of their production offshore. I source from fairly reputable New Zealand based suppliers, you can read more about the fabric I use, including links some of my suppliers’ information on the responsible sourcing of their fabrics on my fabric care page here.
Is “made in New Zealand” best practice? Not necessarily.
With the rise in offshore manufacturing we have seen steep decline in the production of clothing in New Zealand, and with that a decline in the willingness/ability to invest in our manufacturing infrastructure. There are not a lot of businesses willing to bring in new technologies or machinery due to their high cost and low demand from the New Zealand market, especially when the machinery and technologies are easily available at offshore factories. Along with this there is a decline in interest of machinists/labourers in New Zealand. As young people in New Zealand we were told we can “be whatever we want to be”, this doesn’t often result in the desire to sew at a machine for 8 hours a day, though I do believe there is a workforce here.
Offshore manufacturing doesn’t instantly mean low ethical standards. Kowtow is one of the worlds highest rated ethical brands (see Good on You and the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report from Tearfund), and they are a New Zealand based fashion company who manufacture their garments offshore in a highly ethical way. A lot of companies have ethical standards listed on their website, by way of policy and transparency, it’s up to you to determine if this is sufficient for you. Keep in mind that often companies don’t own the factories they produce in and cannot always guarantee that the work isn’t being outsourced from the factories to unethical out workers (children, unsafe environments, low wages).
I wrote a couple of weeks ago on Fashion Revolution Week, check that out for more info on asking “who made my clothes”.
If you’re shopping online, and even in person, I urge you to ask, where are my clothes made? It’s your right to know.