Made In Australia – Possible Again?

Fibre craft has flourished in Australia for thousands of years. The First Peoples used a variety of materials depending on their geography and ecology and available resources.
Infants were swaddled in possum skins, decorated with imagery and symbols of their ancestral and cultural journeys. As the child grew so did the cloaks, worn and slept in they evolved bearing new imagery depicting relationships and experiences creating a rich tapestry which would one day become their burial shroud.

With the arrival of the Europeans and colonisation textiles took on a different form. Clothing was originally made by independent dressmakers and tailors. In the early 20th century Australia began growing flax on an industrial scale as part of the World War 2 effort. The flax was used for parachute harnesses, coats, ropes and glider covers.


Flax grown in Australia during WW2

The industry grew and peaked in the 1960’s forming 25% of gross domestic product. Production began to decline as a result of trade liberalisation (free trade) in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The early 1990’s saw large numbers of clothing and textiles company’s close down as retailers and wholesalers increased their direct importing which offered more competitive production costs and pricing. Many manufacturers went out of business. Some closed local factory’s and moved production off-shore while retaining design and development facilities and services in Australia adapting to the new climate.

The industry stabilised in the mid 1990’s with government incentives for textiles production and finishing for export to Fiji for manufacturing. Finished garments were then re-imported into Australia. When Fiji’s production systems became uncompetitive after 2000 a number of large businesses were affected. The lifting of import tariffs further impacted the industry. Yarn production fell by 60% between 2001 and 2005 and woven textile fabric production declined. The high technology knitting mill sector remained competitive through government subsidies and incentives.

As Australia climbed out of recession in the mid 1990’s the industry regenerated a production system based on home-based labour known as outwork and small-scale operations. Mandatory codes of practice were introduced to protect workers in VIC and NSW in the mid 2000’s. Ethical Clothing Australia was originally launched in 2001 and the accreditation programme was established in 2010 with the support of the Victorian government. Australian clothing production capacity is concentrated in Victoria.

The Australian clothing and textiles industry was devastated by open trading and internationalised markets however years of reform saw parts of the industry establish a place in the new climate through diversity and flexibility offering quick response to market. The industry is small and supported by independent labels and designers and ethical consumers.

There has been a significant increase in Australian manufacturing since the outbreak of COVID-19 as brands seek supply chain security in unpredictable times. The Victorian government has also launched procurement opportunities to support local suppliers through manufacturing uniforms and personal protective equipment. With so much uncertainty in the world a shift to a more localised economy seems to offer stability.


Luxe Design Group Melbourne the makers of Arnhem's Beneath Our Sun limited edition made in australia collectionLuxe Design Group Melbourne the makers of Arnhem's Beneath Our Sun limited edition made in australia collectionLuxe Design Group Melbourne the makers of Arnhem's Beneath Our Sun limited edition made in australia collection
Arnhem's Made In Australia collection Homegrown Tee Knitted and Manufactured in Melbourne


However, producing in Australia has its limitations and challenges.
The fabric for our Acacia print story from Beneath Our Sun was woven and printed in China and imported to Australia so that the garments could be manufactured in Melbourne. While there are weaving mills in Australia, the fabrics are generally heavier in weight and as such, not suitable for our collections.

The organic cotton for our printed tee shirt was grown and processed in India, where farmers use 75% rain water guaranteed by annual monsoons in place of irrigating river systems. The yarn is processed and imported and knitted into jersey fabric in Melbourne. We were unable to source organic cotton yarn within Australia as farmers have unfortunately found growing certified organic cotton uneconomical.

We believe the capacity and capabilities of the Australian fashion industry can grow with the support of more brands manufacturing locally. As a customer we ask for your commitment to supporting ethical, local manufacturing too. Australian made products generally tend to come at a higher price point, however by investing in sustainably made, quality pieces that you will treasure forever you are helping to rebuild local economies and community. By rethinking the value of our clothes, fashion made in Australia might be possible again.