What's the Biggest Challenge Facing NZ Fashion Right Now?

Our power panel weighs in

The arrival of more global retail giants will impact on our local market. Picture / Getty

Our power list is made up of a diverse range of clever people shaping New Zealand’s fashion landscape, from designers to developers, real estate experts to bloggers. Each has a unique insight into the challenges facing the local industry right now - we asked some of them to share their thoughts on the issue.

The biggest challenge to New Zealand fashion is the continued globalisation of the fashion marketplace. Long gone is the self contained domestic market, and easy access Australian export market which sustained our fashion industry. Our consumers have a wide range of choices at all price points, as do those in our export markets. This isn’t new. It’s been heading our way in degrees for decades. And it’s both a challenge and an opportunity.

First it was the Australian brands setting up here and then online shopping. Now the arrival of Topshop and Prada show that it will only be a matter of time before we have more global players selling here, physically and online. It also shows how smart local players like Karen Walker and Barkers, who secured the rights to operate Topshop here, are making opportunities out of the new reality.

We will continue to see more cheap and fast fashion which eats away at those brands sitting in the middle price points. And even those buying luxury are often happier to splash out on a bag or sunglasses with the right brand, than on expensive ready to wear fashion where the label is much more discreetly tucked away.

Some in the industry won’t survive the increased competition. But if you are looking for local inspiration of success look at players like Karen Walker, I Love Ugly, or Deadly Ponies, all three of examples of businesses with strong brands and compelling strategies who are shaping exciting futures.

One of the biggest challenges is that there isn't much support for emerging designers. We have some extremely talented young designers trying to survive in an industry where garments have a short shelf life - three months, then they go on sale. And they are expensive to produce, especially if you want to keep it local. There used to grants available to support new brands and carry them to a place where they become a sustainable business and provide employment for a local industry. If we don't support fresh talent, we won't have the option of buying local and New Zealand made.

As a generalisation the two biggest impacts are the increasing presence of international brands entering or about to enter the market and secondly the accessibility of global brands/product via online. The impact of which is pricing. The larger global fast fashion brands are very price competitive which will put pressure on existing retailers. In addition the fast fashion brands have high stock turns, with product newness a key feature. Secondly the need to drive individualism. With a global market place at our door step, there is an increasing need for local fashion brands to be distinctive and unique. Fashion design however is an area where I believe New Zealand has always ‘punched above its weight’ as can be seen by the success of an array of New Zealand fashion designers.

The same challenges that are facing the fashion industry globally – a major factor being that there are people and brands innovating at a really high level which means that those who don’t innovate run the risk of becoming irrelevant very quickly.

New Zealand is part of a global retail market, and a high New Zealand currency means more online purchasing. Many New Zealanders assess choice on perception of value. New Zealand designers who only wholesale through horizontal retail portals are at risk. Increased production, employment and real estate costs are real challenges that face our local brands now and in the future.

The biggest challenge for some New Zealand designers is how to get enough international eyes on their amazing collections.

I believe there might be a few challenges actually. Firstly, which New Zealand will always have to battle, is its location! It works for it and against it, it keeps the country pristine and special, while its vast distance to major markets incurs great import/export costs. Secondly, the small domestic market, which has difficulty in sustaining the brands due to the lack of population buying. Third, the cost of production competing with cheaper labor cost countries. Creating high quality commercial to high end product by New Zealand designers could make New Zealand stand out in the world market going forward...similar to some amazing quality wine from New Zealand that has caught the world's attention! I think it must be very difficult to keep up with High St pricing and worldwide brands such as GAP, H&M, American Apparel, Zara, Banana Republic, UNIQLO, Topshop… which are infiltrating local markets.

The growth and popularity of fast fashion and accessibility/arrival of international chain retailers. It's hard to compete with the speed, availability and pricing of chain stores. With the internet, it's inevitable that everyone sees the same things and are influenced by the same things at the same time. That's not to say it can't be overcome - I think brands just need to have clear target audiences and ideas about what their brands are about/brand guidelines and really great, forward marketing strategies in order to stay relevant and different, and convert sales in the current environment.

BARNABY MARSHALL (Business Director for I Love Ugly)
I think the biggest challenge facing New Zealand fashion is the same that most other industries have in New Zealand: the ability to create a product or service that has a strong enough identity to be exportable, and then having the ability to successfully take that to an international market place. New Zealand is obviously a very small market, so the focus needs to be on international growth primarily, the challenge/skill that is required is being able to create a story that is relevant and unique to the whole world.

VALENTIN OZICH (Founder and Creative Director at I Love Ugly)
There are a number of challenges involved, that are basic in theory but difficult in execution. I believe the most important thing is the mental shift throughout our entire company. It’s a scary thought taking your brand to the international stage, both financially and constantly thinking “global” as opposed to “local” in everything you do as a brand. It’s such a cut throat industry with so many strong players, that mediocrity isn't enough. Finding your unique voice through the turbulence, and pushing boundaries on every level is crucial. At the same time you have to have the ability to monetise in the local market, as this is what gets brands going in the first place.

One challenge is the introduction of internationally-owned retail giants. But further to that is our attitude towards buying clothes; the majority of people want as many options as they can get for the cheapest price possible. An attitude, which in turn, lets the retail giants win, and our locally produced collections loose out. If the consumer was a little better educated or cared a little more about where exactly their clothes were coming from, I'd like to think that they'd make better purchasing decisions. So, perhaps our biggest challenge for the future is to shift the attitude of consumerism in a more sustainable direction. Asking if owning 10 knitwear pieces, each warping and pilling after one wash, only to be thrown away or replaced next season, is better than owning one knitwear piece that not only fits perfectly, feel amazing and will last you 10 years, it has been beautifully designed and made by someone who has poured their heart and soul into the shape, the details, the hand-dyed yarn. The better purchase, in the long run, is obvious.

We are very passionate about supporting the New Zealand economy and we produce all of our garments on shore. It is becoming an issue for the industry as more and more local companies are sending their business off shore pulling trade away from our local suppliers. Without local support, these smaller business are being forced to close down. This poses issues for our brand going forward as it may force us to start looking at producing off shore, a decision we wouldn't feel was right for the brand.

Innovation and being relevant globally.

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