This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Why be Australian made?

The background

When I started a quest to launch a clothing label that embodied the best of Australia, it was a passion for Australian made that underscored my ambition. Going back to the beginning, I grew up in the regional Victorian city of Warrnambool, a once thriving textiles hub until Australia’s tariff walls began coming down from the mid 1980s. In fact, Warrnambool was home to the iconic Fletcher Jones brand and factory (pictured above with its magnificent gardens) which at its peak in the 80’s had over 1,200 employees but by 2004 was completely closed. For a company which started in 1918, Fletcher Jones was ahead of its time, operating a staff share scheme which ultimately resulted in over half the company being owned by its employees. Warrnambool also had a major woollen mill which had over 500 workers up until the 80’s but it too was closed by the early 2000s. This loss of industry was a pretty big blow to a regional city that at the time had a population of just over 25,000.

My life and career took me in many directions, working in commercial property, agribusiness, representing small and medium sized businesses for the South Australian Business Chamber, and ultimately making the move into retail. It was working for the business chamber that exposed me to the plethora of manufacturers that still exist in Australia, despite the considerable external pressures working against them. While manufacturing in Australia may not employ as many as in the past, the businesses that have survived are the best at their craft and able to successfully carve out a niche in global markets.

I have always had a love for Australian brands, particularly the few like RM Williams, Rossi and Driza Bone that are still predominantly manufactured here. There is simply something special about wearing Australian made clothes or footwear, particularly when the business is locally owned too. Seeing a gap in the market for locally manufactured active leisure wear and wanting to develop Sim & Mack as a new generation Australian clothing label, I realised it had to be made here. What I didn’t anticipate was the challenge of getting a locally made label off the ground when only a fraction of the industry has survived, but that’s a story for another journal article.

The commercial reality

While I had the desire to manufacture in Australia, having an economics degree certainly conflicted with being idealistic about it. From a pure numbers perspective, it would have been much more cost effective to manufacture in Asia, particularly in China. It is simply a matter of economies of scale which Australia does not have. That’s how international trade typically works, each country produces what they have a comparative advantage in producing and the surplus is exported. Which is basically why Australia now makes very little clothing and Asia makes very much.

But clothing is personal, much more personal than simply finding something at the lowest price. We want to invest in clothes that both make us look good, and feel good knowing that we’re supporting local manufacturing. Sure, we might have to pay a bit more for the privilege, but we’re also getting a higher quality product that lasts. And Sim & Mack’s attention to detail is all about making garments to endure.

Manufacturing in Australia, for the large part, also means supporting small family owned businesses and I have enjoyed getting to know the owners who in many cases have endured the last 40 years of economic headwinds as support for the local industry was steadily unwound. According to official government ABS data, employment in the textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing sector fell from a high of just over 120,000 in the mid to late 1980’s to barely 30,000 today as the vast majority of Australian brands shifted their manufacturing offshore. While the industry is a skeleton of what previously existed, it is not entirely gone and by supporting Australian made labels, you’re helping to keep it alive.

Australian made is also a marker of standards for all manner of aspects of business operations which is very important for the Sim & Mack brand. Whether that be labour conditions and one of the world’s highest minimum wages, or environmental standards. While both of these are on a continuum and Australia can always do better, the reality is that Australia is significantly ahead of the vast majority of countries, particularly in Asia where the lion’s share of the world’s textile manufacturing industry is based.

You, the customer

But shouldn’t making clothes affordable be a higher priority for a start-up label like Sim & Mack? That’s a valid argument and certainly one that I gave due consideration to. If Sim & Mack were to be made in China, Australians would be more easily able to afford to own a piece. But we would also be doing a disservice to the many Australians who want to be able to buy locally made and owned. Sim & Mack is deliberately focused on timeless design for those that invest in clothes, not those who only want to keep up with the latest fast fashion trends. 

So being affordable is a relative term when you consider how much you spend on clothing that doesn’t stand the test of time. I don’t deny that you’ll pay more for a Sim & Mack piece, but it’s made in Australia and that counts for something.


No more products available for purchase

Your cart is currently empty.