There are just no young people: New Zealand clothing manufacturers sound alarm

You could say Gary Fernandez is something of an endangered species.

The 71-year-old fabric cutter is among the last of his kind, a specialist in the New Zealand fashion manufacturing industry that is under threat of disappearing as cheap fast fashion swamps the market.

Fernandez has been in the trade since he was 15 years old.

His father had wanted him to become a builder but the rag trade beckoned for the teen with an apprenticeship at Rainster, a coat factory in central Auckland.

A lot has changed over his 50 years in the job. While manufacturing was all New Zealand-based when he started, the end of tariffs in between 1992 and 1999 made imported clothes cheaper and prompted a wave of factory closures. Now, fashion brands making clothes locally is the exception rather than the rule.

Some of the country’s top fashion designers want to save what is left rebuild a workforce to replace the experienced workers who are about to retire.

Kate Sylvester, Emily Millar-Sharma from Ruby and others say it is time to invest in the clothing manufacturing industry, before it’s too late.

Sylvester says New Zealand’s fashion industry is almost like an endangered species, having faced significant threats from the fast fashion industry over the last 30 years.

“We had a thriving industry of manufacturers and with the removal of tariffs and arrival of fast fashion, there was a huge pressure, everything became price driven.”

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