All items of clothing start with some form of fabric, so when considering making a garment or how, what fabric will be used is central to the outcome and one of the first steps you would consider.
When starting a clothing brand, locating your fabric suppliers is a pivotal relationship to form. In New Zealand there are a range of fabric suppliers that specialise in specific areas. We work with around half a dozen. We work with them to source around 90% of our fabrics, some times we will import certain fabrics we can’t locate locally. We try to avoid it however as it adds cost to the final garment and as most good fabric mills are located far away the carbon cost is pretty high also.
With Checks we felt it was important to do as much as we could to make a meaningful contribution with our clothing and really analysed how we would manufacture our garments with low impact from the resources used and to benefit the wellbeing of the people involved in the manufacturing process. Making the majority of our clothing in New Zealand was a really important decision, it was a ‘must-do’ not a ‘nice-to’. As we grow we are finding new product lines to manufacture domestically which is really exciting to uncover.
The way the fabric industry predominantly works in New Zealand, due to our small scale, is fabric wholesalers buy up over-runs or ends of lines from fabric mills or large international designers, who may have produced/ordered thousands of meters and have one hunndred meters remaining unused. The upside of this is that we are getting access to high quality fabric at a good price and this fabric is being saved from gathering dust in a warehouse or being dumped, most other countries have the scale or access to a wide variety of fabric mills and supply, so this model is well suited to New Zealand and our isolation and industry size.
The downside is that it is hard to trace the origin and lineage of these fabrics, by the time they have been sold by the factory to the designer in say the USA and utilised for their production run then the remaining fabric is sold to a wholesaler here in New Zealand amongst 50 or 100 other fabrics it is hard to backtrack and pin down exactly where the fabric was manufactured, what it was dyed with and how the waste water was treated. However given the scale being consumed in New Zealand we are really a blip on the radar of the global fabric consumption, as there are only a couple of active fabric mills in New Zealand which are operating on a very boutique scale our options to change this system are pretty limited. So as a business like ours we sort of have to accept what we can attain and hope to scale to a point where we can force more of a change in our supply chain. Given a vast amount of the fabric sold in New Zealand isn’t made directly for this market, we are a secondary market, there is some relief in not being the driving force in producing fabric and the liability involved.
We personally feel that most of the conversation in clothing manufacturing practices has become focused to how fabric is being manufactured and this process along with the conditions of the workers involved in garment production. Usually a startling amount of water is used in fabric manufacturing and often the waste water used in dyeing is highly toxic and dumped straight in to water systems. This is a serious issue that requires addressing and we admire anyone that is sourcing organic materials and utilising natural dyed to minimise this impact. We feel this is only a part of the conversation and can’t help but feel that often a spotlight is cast on this and other areas of the garment production process are overlooked. Perhaps it’s because the fabric production is largely the responsibility of the mills and comes down to vetting and working alongside them to implement systems, maybe it’s because the effect of the garment manufacturing industry on the environment is a much bigger conversation than the impact on the people involved in the supply chain – such as addressing minimum wage and factory conditions.
It sort of feels like as a society all we need to know is what rating the factory a garment is made in has or that the brand is working with the factory to improve this or provide additional services for it’s staff, where that factory is located and there wage rates seem secondary to the price of the end garment and perhaps some perk in the production process.
For us this isn’t enough, from the beginning we made a hard decision that wherever possible our garments would be made in New Zealand or a country with similar human welfare standards and minimum wage rates. In fact this wasn’t really a decision, it was just how we would do things and we would make the business work around that. Despite the pressure from outside influences and doubt about whether we could scale a business utilising local manufacturing, this is how we were going to do things. Just because this wasn’t the norm for a brand of our type we felt there had to be a way and other people this would be important to as well.
For us this is the most meaningful thing we can do in our supply chain to reduce the impact of our manufacturing process and ensure the conditions of the people involved. Given the factors described earlier the origin of the fabric used is a fairly small component compared to the labour standards.
Manufacturing domestically is not easy, it is a very fragmented process with each step in the making of a garment such as the pattern work, cutting, making, and finishing usually being completed by separate businesses that specialise in one of these steps. This requires a lot of time and management, beyond that due to the boutique scale and comparative lack of competition it is very expensive to manufacture clothing here as you would expect and as labour is usually the major cost in a garment this adds up significantly.
The only way we could carry these costs in our production and still sell our garments at prices we felt were accessible was to retail the garments ourselves and sell direct to our consumers so that a wholesale margin wasn’t built in to our pricing structure.
We wanted to touch on this matter of sourcing and the fabrics we use in our garments as a part of our production process as we sort of felt that quite a lot of work is being done to focus the conversation around garment manufacturing to isolated areas of this conversation that suit a certain objective and are only part of the challenge. We do not want to come across as defensive or belittling, because this is important work and there are many challenges to overcome. However as consumers we have gotten used to consuming products at certain prices which to be achieved must be made at a very low cost price. To do this the goods must be made overseas and imported and it has been made very easy to do this and unfortunately little has been done to incentivise and develop local manufacturing.
We massively appreciate everyone that has told us they connect with our values and writing around what goes into creating our garments, we aim to be completely transparent around our processes as we feel there is nothing for us to hide. The beauty of what we do is not just in the end result but in the steps to get there. So if you have any questions about our production please send us a message and we’ll be happy to answer.