Continuing on from the first part of this two-parter, I interviewed Canberran fashion designer Sofia Polak on her views of offshore production, outworkers, and the responsibilities of the designers and fashion companies of Australia.
sofia polak is made in Australia, whereas the majority of Australian labels are now turning to offshore production for putting together either part or all of their garments. Why, when the cost of offshore production is significantly cheaper, do you hold firm to having your pieces made in Australia? What does it mean to you?
I am firm believer in producing my garments in Australia for a number of reasons. Firstly, I feel that there is a market out there that would prefer to buy Australian-made as opposed to offshore manufactured garments, particularly in the evening and special occasion niche. Secondly, I feel proud to be an Australian designer and feel there is a certain obligation that comes with the title. Lastly, I am an independent designer and manufacturing my garments in Australia allows me to be hands-on in the production process and work very closely with my suppliers to assure my end product is of a high standard.
What are some of the difficulties you have faced in sticking to your guns on this issue?
As an upcoming designer, it means I am competing against designers who can offer lower wholesale prices to retailers by sourcing their production offshore. I believe I can overcome this by offering a quality product and designs which reflect longstanding style as opposed to fast fashion. This was one of the reasons why I turned to the evening wear and special occasion niche market. It was a natural step for me as my passion lies in designing beautiful timeless garments.
Are you aware of the issue of home-based outworkers in the Australian fashion industry? If so, have you encountered this issue in any way during all your years in fashion?
I am aware of home-based outworkers that perhaps don’t receive a standard a standard level of industry conditions. I personally haven’t come across this but have heard of designers being exposed to this whilst taking on internships for established brands. I personally think that this type of treatment should not evident in any industry, let alone the rag trade.
Do you think that, for a fashion brand, it is possible to contract garment-makers who then outsource to home-based outworkers (working on as little as $3 an hour) without realising it? Do you think that many brands maybe take a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach on that possibility?
When you take on a business I feel it is important to do your research and ensure that all elements reflect the ethics of your brand. I think there is a possibility for designers who are new to the industry, that are not aware of this issue. Retail sales are reportedly low and the market is flooded with national and international brands therefore making the pressure to maintain low prices to stay in the game quite prominent. I believe that the bigger established brands should be taking the lead and avoid contractors who may be involved in such malpractice.
I will soon be interviewing Cindy Reese Mitchell of No Sweat Fashions on a very similar topic. A huge thanks to Sofia for her thoughts on these issues!