A Grown Up Vision for Australian Fashion.

Australia has long been thought of as “the lucky country”. A country not just blessed by natural opportunity but one afforded historical wealth gain arguably based more on the relatively easy option of commodities and geographically protected replication. In an economic climate of infinite growth it was hard to argue the logic of the higher risk and return of value adding versus the low risk certainty of smaller but steadier returns delivered by commoditisation and price. Thanks to a combination of technology and global economics, that situation has changed – forever.

In the footwear, clothing and textiles industry we commonly refer to as ‘fashion’, the slow revolution we experienced from deregulation in the 1980’s until recent times is nothing compared to what we are now beginning to experience. Yet Australian fashion has an opportunity not only to survive but also to lead the world. And a great deal of our opportunity rests in reversing lowest common denominator global sourcing.

Not surprisingly given our commodity heritage, Australia today produces the best raw wool, the best crocodile pelts, exclusive kangaroo leather and world leading hemp fabric all of which we export unrefined as commodities. Wool in particular is downright embarrassing when you think that the top Italian mills buy our merino wool (acknowledged as the best in the world) only to see Australian brands buy back finished wool fabric at more than a hundred times the price we sold the bale at because we do not have the infrastructure nor inclination to mill it.

Australia – the world’s biggest island – has a unique halo based on a global perception of sun, sand, surf, wide open spaces, a friendly casual attitude to life and a tangible sense of freedom. Combine the natural materials we produce and the global perception of Australian inspirational living and we should have fertile ground for developing world leading fashion products that – far from competing on price – play to high growth social and economic trends to release exponential productivity gains from being unique.

Today the federal government is investing more than fifty six billion dollars (and counting) on a national broadband network that will build a superhighway for global companies – many of whom not only don’t pay tax but until recent changes in policy didn’t even contribute GST – to extract increasingly large amounts of Australian’s hard earned income offshore.

If the government spent ten per cent of that amount establishing an innovation fund to stimulate investment in cultivation and manufacturing technology, innovative design resources and a regional production hub, Australian fashion could begin to produce fashion products that are uniquely Australian from fabric through design and production. One hundred per cent Australian designed and manufactured for export to a world that is crying out for high quality, unique and inspirational fashion stories. Fashion stories that do not mimic Europe but take a unique Australian slant to the stylish casualization trend sweeping the world.

We will always have high labour costs in this country relative to the rest of the world. With a combination of highly skilled labour, smart technology, great design and unique materials, we can produce high margin, high quality products for a world that is overly saturated with me-too disposable fashion. All it will take is some leadership and a fashion industry brave enough to force our governments to stop talking about “the evolution from lucky country to clever country” and get on and do something about it.