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AUSTRALIAN FASHION | Will it survive or be dead in five years?

There’s no denying that the Australian fashion industry is suffering a terrible demise. Imran Amed, founder and editor of the Business of Fashion website says that “the cards are stacked against the Australian fashion industry.” If nothing is done, experts predict we could lose it forever in just five years. Scary considering the fashion industry is big business – over 70,000 people are employed by the fashion industry in Australia. And it’s a multi-billion dollar industry; however over the next five years, growth of the industry is expected to contract by .09 per cent.

AUSTRALIAN FASHION | Will it survive or be dead in five years?

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Established brands are not safe.

Lisa Ho, an iconic Australian designer for the past 30 years, ceased trading in June when her brand went into $11m in debt.

With successful bi-annual shows at Paris Fashion Week since 1995, lace-queen Collette Dinnigan made headlines recently by closing her boutiques. Dinnigan is one of Australia’s most internationally acclaimed designers.

The question is: why?

There are three major factors – the height of the Aussie dollar, the distance, and the opposing seasons to the Northern Hemisphere.

In the last 10 years the Australian dollar has increased by more than 100 per cent. That’s crazy, right? It makes things costlier in Australia and deters other countries from trading with us.

The distance between Australia and other countries is a major factor. The closest fashion capital is at least 20 hours away by plane. It’s not like New York City and LA where you can just jet back and forth – for us, it’s a committed and expensive commute.

And, there’s the shipping costs. It costs more to ship a parcel overnight from Perth to Sydney than it does to come all the way from America.

The opposing seasons don’t help, either.  Are we always going to trail behind?

David Bush, fashion consultant from David Bush Consulting, told The Newsroom that one problem is designers are forgetting to establish a strong business model on home turf and are expanding internationally before they’re financially sound. “Too many Australian brands see ‘over there’ as the golden goose and fail because they haven’t bedded down their business at home first.”

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Many designers are keeping their focus on achieving international recognition while overseas brands are popping up all over the country, adding more competition.

Bush thinks that Australian’s still have an advantage over international brands. “They know (or should know) their customers far better than brands based in the US or Japan. [Designers], capitalise on your relationships with your customers,” he says.

“For too long we in Australia have been protected,” Bush added. “This new competition is an opportunity for brands to step up and take a good hard look at what they offer their customer and how they do business.”

Consumers are seeing positives of buying overseas rather than at home.

Jade Odermatt, founder of Label Ministry, thinks that the reason people are looking outside Australia for value is because of what is happening within the industry.

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“If we have an industry that’s really thriving then we don’t have to have a penny pinching attitude, do we?” she told The Newsroom. “People are still happy to go and spend a lot of money on Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin. They still have a market share. Why don’t we?”

She says a lot of it comes down to the fact people don’t care about our own fashion industry as much as they used to and that is a scary thing.

“Let’s support our own industry, keep our money here, bring back jobs here, and bring back production lines as much as we can here,” she says.

Surely Aussie brands should entice the consumer to shop here? Odermatt says yes. “It’s time to take our attention out of the browser window, and focus on the senses of fashion again – feeling, seeing, enjoying – and bring back the excitement of the runway.

“[Designers] need that. They need that help and that motivation and they need that exposure. They need people to get excited about what they’re doing.”

One reason for the lack of this brand experience is funding and support. Young and emerging designers need help exposing their collections and making connections. There is criticism of the Australian fashion industry and the Government for not providing this.

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In America, for example, there’s the CFDA – Council of Fashion Designers of America – a not-for-profit organisation that has been helping designers since 1962. Their mission is “to strengthen the influence and success of American designers in the global economy.”

Sydney designer Dion Lee thinks programs like these would be essential in Australia.

“I think it’s really relevant,” he told The Australian. “If you look at those organisations and how significantly they contribute to the industry, it’s obvious that [they] help feed the economy… it does a lot more for the country than simply helping individual designers.”

Odermatt founded her company earlier this year to help do just that. Label Ministry has two goals – to bring back excitement to fashion and to create a mentorship program between established and emerging designers.

“Right now everyone [in the industry] is isolated, they’re separated from each other, and they’re all struggling in their individual ways but nobody is talking, nobody is helping [each other].”

Odermatt believes people need to come together and do something about it.

“Somebody needs to start this discussion. I’m not saying it’s going to be a pleasant one but I do very much believe that the outcome will be a positive one.”

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First published on The Newsroom here.