Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Dark Side Of The Loom - Part 1

Friedrich Gray designer Ben Pollitt
Garment manufacturing has thankfully progressed from the days of the loom, but this play on Pink Floyd’s legendary album (suggested by one of my creative colleagues) seemed a fitting title for this post.

Although the fashion industry seems glamorous from the outside, the harsh reality is that behind the glitz and glamour, many designers in Australia are struggling. With the retail industry not having recovered from the GFC, even established brands are having to change the way they do business.

A recent article by Georgia Safe (New labels struggle to soar) discusses the difficulties facing Australian brands.

After being in operation for 6 years, Friedrich Gray’s designer Ben Pollitt has decided to take a break from his label. Three years ago, Pollitt was heralded as the designer to watch after he wowed the crowds at Australian Fashion Week. His bold and daring designs featured in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. However, as is a common thread with many Australian designers, he has been unable to make sufficient sales to keep the label going.

A lot of the time, designers cannot afford support staff so they try to juggle designing with running a business.  Designer Dion Lee found this to be an issue when he first started, but he has been lucky enough to generate sufficient sales - thanks to his exposure to both domestic and overseas markets – allowing him to hire staff to assist with his business. (Read more about Dion Lee here).

Pollit also indicated that there were not enough stores in Australia to support his label. It was not until I began talking to and interviewing retailers that I discovered they cannot stock every label they want. If an established store is already stocking a particular label, they may have an agreement with the designer to limit who else can stock their product, in essence giving them a monopoly over the market. Although this is good for the store, it is not good for the designer, nor the consumer, as it gives them free reign over price. Although the designer may have guaranteed sales with that particular store, their other sales will be limited. This means orders will be reduced, decreasing production numbers. A decrease in production numbers means that designers cannot take advantage of economies of scale, making production costs very expensive.

I was surprised to read in the article that established Australian designer Jayson Brunsdon wasn’t shocked to hear of Friedrich Gray’s impending closure. 

Designs from Brunsdon's collection from Myer
Despite being in the fashion industry for more that 20 years, Brunsdon indicated that the GFC almost cost him his business. With stockists overseas having to close their businesses, Brunsdon was not paid for stock, meaning he was in financial dire straits.

Brunsdon managed to weather the storm and continues to design today. Other brands have also been lucky. Australian business wear company Herringbone and established jeans brand Ksubi both went into voluntary administration during the GFC, but both were rescued by investors who could see some value in the brands.

Part 2 of The Dark Side Of The Loom available here.

Image courtesy of and

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