I had a bit of an epiphany in the past year that I feel is going to be a pivotal moment in the trajectory of Checks. When canvassing our customers to seek their opinions on our products, and the brand as a whole, they were frequently asking for higher value – meaning the same high level of design and quality in our products at a more affordable price. That coupled with opportunities arising in wholesaling our products, meaning Checks being sold via other boutique stores, both domestically and internationally meant looking at how we were previously producing our goods and making a change. Having produced all of our cut and sew (garments made from scratch) clothing in New Zealand, when we looked in to how to offer our customers better pricing and be ready to scale for wholesale customers and cater to the margin other retail stores require, we quickly realised that these two things were not achievable in conjunction with maintaining domestic production. And as both of these goals were important to us – listening to our customers' needs and expanding the brand into new regions – there was no option but to explore new manufacturing pathways.
'The skills, resources and machinery are all there.'
We settled on a global sourcing approach, taking our clothing manufacturing offshore to different regions that specialise in those items. It has been a revelational experience, learning that our goals of improved pricing and global sales could be achieved in conjunction with a far superior product. This Winter season is the first where you will see this product coming on stream and we think that it is our best work yet, easily. To hear and see our customers validate that has been incredibly rewarding. Funnily enough, the best clothing factories in the world are in the countries that have invested most heavily in the advancement of this industry, they are not in Italy or France as you may imagine, but in areas of Asia like China, India and so on. Where both rapid industrialization and artisanal skills passed on through generations have been maintained. To date, the process of receiving early samples and eventually finished production has been a thrilling journey as we started to realise that anything is achievable. The skills, resources and machinery are all there. Imagine if you have been working under intense restrictions and what you have been able to establish within those and then suddenly those are lifted and you have access to achieve almost anything you imagine.
Truth be told, we had been slogging our guts out to deliver incredibly high value products that were made domestically and all the challenges that come with manufacturing clothing in such a fragmented cottage industry. We had told the story of domestic manufacturing and how much we valued working with local industry. I had in fact been pretty stubborn in this view and maybe a bit blinded to what was achievable and what we were sacrificing in time, energy and resources. This realisation that we had to make a change was one of those sort of moments when everything clicks together and you know it’s the only path forward. The beauty however in manufacturing clothing in New Zealand is that you can also produce your goods in a very small scale, effectively whatever quantity you want to start from will be accepted. This allowed us to produce a wider range of styles with low risk in terms of the commitment required to minimum order quantity, we could make ten styles in the same level of units as we need to make maybe a couple of product lines offshore. The flipside of that being you pay through the nose for each new style you make locally, with each production step being completed by a separate business operating on a small scale. By comparison the normal for offshore manufacturers is that they will control the whole process, from pattern work, fabric and trims sourcing, to cutting, sewing, washing or dyeing if required, embellishment, packing and dispatch. With domestic channels that could mean working with that could mean eight or more business are involved in producing that one item, you can easily see how the cost in time and resources stacks up.
'For me personally, this was a process that involved reviewing my own values around clothing and what was important to Checks as a brand.'
When you make the leap to manufacturing overseas, the majority of regions will involve a jump up in the number of units produced in any style. With the growth of the Checks brand over the past three years and these new wholesale opportunities, we were reaching a stage where these sort of numbers were in reach. Coupled with improved pricing we felt that this was a leap worth taking as we could start to reduce some price barriers. For me personally, this was a process that involved reviewing my own values around clothing and what was important to Checks as a brand. I came to realise that what we could achieve in this new model, was both liberating, challenging and almost revitalising to me. That might sound like an exaggeration but as working in fashion has been my life's work this sort of transitionary moment meant I had to look at myself as well.
Having access to so many new production methods, fabrics and garment styles was so exciting that I quickly moved on from any reservations. Having a healthy business model meant that over time we could analyse and give thought to other areas of our production methods that could be improved, without all our energy and resources being soaked up. If we wanted to start utilising organic or recycled cottons, natural dyes, custom woven fabrics – all of that is now in sight where this would mostly be unreachable in the confines of local production. I’m looking forward to presenting some of these new developments to you in the coming months, to hear people say ‘this is the best collection yet’ or have these new styles selling out certain sizes under a week when we’ve doubled our units ordered has been the biggest seal of approval so far.