In Sydney's inner west suburb of St Peters is The Textile Hub, an Australian start-up which specialises in digital textile printing. The printing plant occupies half a warehouse, has two machinery operators and opened its doors to local designers last September.
Why any fashion house would go to a textile printer in the heart of Sydney instead of outsourcing it to China and India at a fraction of the price, people might wonder, but for Sydney fashion designer Tonia Bastyan, who is preparing to launch ethical children's swimwear brand Conscious Swim, going to China and India were simply not an option.
She also considered going to Italy, but with the minimum requirement of 350 to 400 metres of fabric, it was going to be too expensive.
"It's about the speed, reducing supply chains and producing to demand," Bastyan says, who is planning on launching the brand with an initial run of 150 swimwear pieces.
The Textile Hub is bucking trend. The clothing and footware manufacturing industryhas been in decline for many years and it employs less than 20,000 people in Australia, according to the latest Australian Statistics data.
But The Textile Hub founder Julian Lowe reckons the business model can work, as it has in countries like Italy, Spain and Germany.
While getting printing done locally can be three times as expensive as outsourcing, Lowe says local printing offers a faster turnaround time of one to two weeks, compared to 12 to 18 weeks overseas, and a smaller minimum printing requirement of 50 or 100 meres, compared to 500 to 1000 metres overseas.
So far, Lowe has worked with Australian fashion houses to get their fabric sampling done locally as well as smaller fashion designers like Bastyan.
"The vision ultimately is to bring some manufacturing back to Australia. Even if established Australian companies hedge their bets by doing 10 per cent of their production here, that's still better than nothing," Lowe says.
Lowe's aim is not to compete with factories in China and India in mass textile printing, but to offer a faster service to local designers who want a faster turnaround to keep up with the fast fashion trend.
It can also work with local fashion start-ups like Bastyan who only require smaller batches of fabric, to prevent inventory buildup and waste. Lowe hopes this will in turn help local fashion designers who want to make their own products.
"Fashion students are driving Uber cabs and becoming graphic designers, because there is no fashion work," he says.
Former Woolworths CEO Paul Simons said there is room for bringing the manufacturing industry back to Australia such, but it should be focused on advanced manufacturing using the latest technology rather than mass production.
He said consumers demand for Australian-made products to follow as they become more concerned about the supply chain.
"Today more people are becoming concerned about ethics in production and it is a selling feature if you can demonstrate you have higher standards of production," Simons said.
by Misa Han
photo Christopher Pearce