Photo: Katherine Lowe
Do you know what I like about Australians? They tell it like it is. If they've got an opinion about something, they'll say it out loud, and they'll put their names to it. (New Zealanders always want to be quoted anonymously.) On Saturday, one day after Rosemount Australian Fashion Week had wrapped, The Australian published a piece quoting Vogue editor Kirstie Clements and Australian Fashion Week founder Simon Lock saying that the local industry was in dire straits. The problem? According to Lock, "People want to come to fashion week and find things that are different to what they see in Europe and North America." Judging from the majority of the fashion seen last week, most of the designers had spent their summers studying the European and North American collections a little too closely. For the record, Raf Simons at Jil Sander should feel mighty proud for having influenced so many of them.
In Clements' opinion, the arrival of major chainstores will hurt local designers. "Zara opened two weeks ago and people were lining up at the door - and there are still queues around the block for those clothes. Zara has got that point of being on trend and at a lower price point, and a lot of Australian designers in the middle ground are going to have to lift their game if they want to compete, or get out."
The latter also applies to New Zealand designers. There's a catch 22 situation at hand: many of our mid-level or young and upcoming brands are committed to producing their collections in New Zealand. While admirable, in doing so they're forcing the consumer to make a tough decision – pay a lot more for Kiwi-made garments, or pay a lot less for equally well-designed and constructed garments from a chainstore. With the onset of easy online shopping (now that companies are starting to ship down under), who is going to pay $500 for a dress when they can get something similar for $180? It's a no-brainer. And let's face it: it's not like us New Zealanders are rolling in money right now.
It all comes down to value for the consumer. If a designer wants to sell a dress for $500, that dress has to be worth $500. The fabric, fit and make all have to look at least three times as good as the $180 dress hanging on the rack at Topshop in The Department Store. Same goes for a mens' tailored jacket. Do not attempt to sell a poorly fitting blazer in a low quality wool for $600. It's simply not worth it to the customer.
Like Simon Lock said, designers have to show the world original, fresh designs. But they also have to retail them at some semblance of a realistic price point. If they don't, they'll become extinct.
And that's why I think that Jae Mills at Commoners Alike is doing the smartest brand in New Zealand right now – fashion forward, price pointed basics that have a near 100% sell-through at retail.
(Disclaimer: my inclusion of a Stolen Girlfriends Club runway shot above is not a passive aggressive stab at the brand. I just liked the photo.)
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