The NZ fashion industry: Pam's story
Pam is one of our two awesome Production Managers at Nisa. She shares her insights into an ever-changed New Zealand fashion industry.
Hi, My name is Pampam, I’m one of two production managers/jack of all trades that works for Nisa (and I love it!). For the past 18 years, I've worked in fashion and apparel predominantly as a patternmaker, sample machinist and Production manager. Man, oh man has the industry changed over that time…
After leaving Massey University with a Diploma in Fashion Design at the ripe old age of 19, I was very lucky to fall into my first job as a computer pattern maker/marker maker at a small factory that made swimwear, gym wear and dancewear. It was an awesome position to get straight out of uni and I learnt a lot from the 30 or so women (and one man) who worked there. I was there for a couple of years then moved on to another factory that supplied a major local label as its major customer. It was a much bigger set up with around 100 machinists on the factory floor, a fully automated cutting room, four mechanics and an on-site engineer. Hot dang! There was a lot to learn here, from all different areas of the factory.
Unfortunately, it was around this time that the industry I loved started to change dramatically.
New Zealand’s fashion manufacturing just couldn’t compete with their offshore counterparts pricing, and designers started moving more and more of their production to India, Fiji, Turkey, China and elsewhere, so their products could make it to the consumers at a much cheaper price.
Less and less designers were sending work through our factory and this had a devastating effect when our biggest customer followed suit. The factory I worked at closed, along with it’s three other factories it was associated with. There were a lot of people out of work, and it sucked. I was one of the lucky ones who secured a job working as a manual pattern maker for a Wellington designer and was there until I decided to head over the UK a few years later.
Well, let me tell you - I LOVED being overseas and by an absolute stroke of luck, I got a job in an atelier in Brighton and had the absolute pleasure of making couture dresses for the rich and (sometimes) famous. It was a dream. Then, due to the cheaper production that was offered in other countries, this workplace closed too… Sigh…
History never repeats? Damn you Crowded House, it happened again… But, this time there was definitely more hope for finding another job. It was 2014/15 and consumers and manufacturers were starting to pay more attention to global warming, pollution of the planet and the effect that individual industries had in this.
Netflix had also added a groundbreaking documentary called ‘The True Cost’ (2015) to their repertoire. This shone a light on the pollution and the extremely bad way some manufacturers within the fashion and apparel industry dealt with waste. It also showed the cost to the workers and the communities around them, from the growth of the cotton on farms to the manufacture of the cloth it is then turned into, to the treatment and conditions that the workers who then make up the clothes are subjected to, all so the consumer on the high street can buy fast fashion at a bargain-basement price.
Finally, the world was getting a glimpse at the broader effects fast fashion and mass manufacture was having. Did you realise the fashion industry is ranked as the third biggest polluter in the world? Coming in behind the energy and transportation industries…
It was here that I decided to move into only working for ethical and sustainable labels that paid attention to - and had relationships with - all members of their supply chain.
Ethical and sustainable fashion has become very important to me. I had had the luck of being born in New Zealand and had known I'd wanted to make clothes since I was 14 - where would I have ended up if I had been born in a country with limited labour regulations and dangerous working conditions? Would I have been one of the unfortunate 1,134 people that died in the 2013 Rana Plaza clothing factory collapse (the fashion industry’s deadliest disaster to date)?
So, not only had I made the decision to work in the ethical and sustainable sector of fashion, I decided that I was no longer going to support it. I decided to buy everything I could from second-hand shops, and what I couldn't find there I was going to source ethically.
I researched and found out which were the labels I could happily support, and which I shouldn’t any more. You’ll probably be surprised if you do this… I know I certainly was. I also found the Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide, which grades fashion companies on ethical practices in their supply chains, giving you the power to shop ethically and connect with the people who make your clothes.
Have a look at it here: https://www.tearfund.org.nz/Get-Involved/Ethical-Fashion-Guide.aspx
Researching brands that I like to buy has made me realise that more and more manufacturers are putting in work to make sure their supply chains are ethical and sustainable.
Since returning to New Zealand, I have had the pleasure of working for two awesome companies (Kowtow and Nisa) that make beautiful garments ethically and sustainably.
What do I hope for the New Zealand fashion industry?
I hope we all do our best to help stop the pollution and mistakes that the fashion industry has made over the years, that designers and manufacturers really pay attention to where the products they use come from, that consumers of fashion products opt for ethical and sustainable options, and that New Zealand's fashion and apparel industry bounces back, and thrives once more.