The future of Australian fashion

Written by Hannah Cole

Covid-19 has gripped and rocked every industry, every way of life, digging into the corners that we thought were untouchable. So, where to from here? As we start to navigate a new way forward across the board, we’re questioning how our local fashion labels will adapt and emerge on the other side. Interested? Here are a few thought-starters for you.

With factories across China, India and other key manufacturing locations, brought to a standstill, the conversation around local production has become more relevant than ever. The flow-on effects of these closures — halted production, delayed deliveries and new collection sampling — have made it virtually impossible to sell or create at this time. It has shed light on our reliance on manufacturing neighbours; without them in operation, many a fashion label found themselves stuck — no way in or out. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Alanna Camilleri, founder of local, slow fashion label Selfe Studios, has always worked with local manufacturers. Aside from the potential ethical and sustainability benefits (namely potentially greater transparency and reduced shipping impact), Camilleri notes the process as more personal: “There is a connection and journey of the garment coming to life, a process I can be a part of.” 

While fabric import hold-ups have affected her label, designers producing locally found themselves in a position where production could largely be maintained throughout this time. Just as we look to support local farmers for our fresh produce, could we also re-frame our vision to focus on clothing that has travelled fewer miles?

Camilleri believes that, while it is unlikely all production would be moved on-shore, at least a portion may. “With local manufacturing comes more time, more skilled staff and a more hands-on approach,” she remarked, and “some brands aren’t set up for this.” Admittedly, it is a process and, due to the size of the industry here, it isn’t necessarily straightforward or seamless — yet, that is. While brands continue to navigate this and weigh up their options, Camilleri encourages us as consumers to lead the way — “Be more conscious of buying products that are ‘Made in Australia’” (or New Zealand, for that matter). 

This dependence on off-shore production has also made us question outdated fashion cycles and brought more attention to the possibilities of ‘made-to-order’ models. Typically, tailored suits and formal gowns have ruled this world, but it has slowly creeped into the everyday vernacular. 

Recently, local silk separates label NATALIJA made the switch and embraced ‘made-to-order’. Initially, this was prompted by designer Natalija Bouropoulos’ adjustment to motherhood and consideration of the world her daughter’s generation would inherit. Covid-19 was the clincher. Citing fears for the future of retail and the ever-demanding fashion calendar as just a couple of further reasons, Bouropoulos turned to the model — “a means of production which is sustainable both from an environmental standpoint and a business perspective.” 

On 20 May, all wholesale accounts were officially closed and the launch into 100 per cent ‘made-to-order’ ensued. “Not only does this enable us to provide women with quality, responsibly-made clothing at a lower price point but it means we hold no inventory, no fabric waste and no warehousing,” states Bouropoulos. Pieces are made (locally in Sydney) once someone places an online order and ship within two weeks. 

For brands that can make this work, it is a fool-proof way to reduce some of the risk involved and buffer against the unsustainable nature of the fashion beast. The surface has only just been scratched here, but looking locally and knowing your own measurements have never been such powerful tools. It’s undoubtedly an interesting time to be alive, but we will adapt — as we always have — and pave the way for a greener, smarter future. 

selfe studios

Lookbook image from Selfe Studios.

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