Benefits and challenges of manufacturing offshore

December 17, 2015
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This year we had the privilege of having Janelle Fischer visiting our College to give a lecture to our students on Offshore Clothing Manufacturing. Although most of our students are (or are in the process of becoming) small business owners – and therefore design the garments, created the patterns and construct the outfits themselves – manufacturing offshore is definitely something to consider when production reaches larger scales.

Janelle Fischer has an Advanced Diploma of Fashion and has been working in the Australian fashion industry since 1995. Over the last 7 years, she has developed and maintained excellent relationships with international garment factories and shared her knowledge and experience with up-and-coming fashion designers who wish to pursue a similar path.

Prior to 1991, the Australian Clothing & Textile industry was thriving due to a combination of factors, including high tariffs imposed on imported goods, restricted communication and technology, and the country’s geographic location, which was not easily accessible. From the 1990s, we saw a shift towards offshore manufacturing, with the removal of quotas and the progressive reduction of tariffs. The Internet has  played an important role in sharing information and facilitating communication, while international trips to and from Australia also became more achievable. Going offshore turned out to be a more cost-effective alternative and many Australian companies decided to move the manufacturing side of their businesses overseas.

A number of changes were made to adapt to this new scenario. For example, professionals previously employed as manual patternmakers were reskilled as garment technicians or computer patternmakers. While many machinists lost their jobs, new positions also emerged such as importers and manufacturing agents. Australian designers can achieve significant cost savings by manufacturing overseas. On the other hand, there are some drawbacks that need to be considered, including freight and importing costs, fluctuations in the exchange rate, delays, minimum orders and, potentially, a reduction in quality.

There are also ethical considerations that need to be taken into account. As the Australian garment manufacturing industries have moved offshore, there has been a shift in responsibility in regards to monitoring safety issues and working conditions. The latest Australian Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid found that 61% of companies were unaware of where their garments were made, 76% did not know where their fabric was woven, knitted or dyed and 93% were not aware of the origins of the raw fibre. However, there are ethical initiatives and certifications that help companies work with communities around the world, ensuring local producers are paid a fair wage and textiles are tested for harmful substances.

Janelle had some very helpful recommendations for anyone considering offshore manufacturing, from the moment you start searching for overseas partners until the approval of the first order – a very thorough and interesting process as you may imagine. And the work does not stop there. Maintaining a great relationship with your supplier and improving the procedures and products over time is a demanding, yet very rewarding challenge!

If you wish to attend Janelle’s next lecture at in2Mode, please call us on 02 9449 1450 or send an email to info@in2mode.com.au and we will keep you posted on dates.