New Zealand's fashion industry looking to Government to keep it viable

For the first time, New Zealand's fashion and textiles industry has got together to figure out how much it's worth - and it's more than you might expect.

An industry group says it pumped $7.8 billion into the economy last year - that's 1.9 percent of New Zealand's GDP. 

But the industry is still facing an uncertain future, so it wants the Government's help to keep it viable.

This year a number of high-end fashion outlets have closed and the industry's most important event - NZ Fashion Week - has been scaled back to once every two years.

So, the industry wants Government help to become more environmentally friendly, then sell that story to the world. 

"What we really need is someone to take us under their wing and fight for us," designer and Mindful Fashion chair Juliette Hogan said.

"From the beginning with a levy on garments coming into the market, then at the end that levy is actually used to invest in recycling technology."

It comes after industry group Mindful Fashion commissioned a report by Ernst and Young that looked at the industry's worth - from fashion textiles, manufacturing, design, education and media.

In 2023, the industry added $7.8 billion to the economy and employed 76,000 workers, the vast majority women.

"We were being told it was a sunset industry, that we had little value, and so we knew it was going to be important to do this work," Mindful Fashion NZ chief executive Jacinta Fitzgerald said.

But for many years, New Zealand's homegrown fashion has been at risk of losing its footing thanks to cheaper stuff from overseas. 

With a growing tsunami of fast-fashion from the likes of Temu threatening to overtake our higher-value products, Fitzgerald said: "We are at risk of losing this industry to cheap imports."

The Government has ruled out putting levies on products from overseas.

But it says it will soon meet with the industry group to help with other solutions.   

"I don't think we should be thinking about just normal production, we need to be very careful our role in the world, where we want to position our export markets, and diligently pursue them," Commerce and Small Business Minister Andrew Bayley said.

With only 18 percent of New Zealand fashion currently sold overseas, the industry says marketing brand NZ will be key. 

Another challenge it wants help with is training. 

Tim Deane owns Norsewear, a company that uses top-end knitting machines to make merino socks. 

He's trying to find ways to teach his 20 staff to use new and complex machinery.  

"It's almost impossible for me to find any technical courses that can be used to upskill them. Now there is nothing," he said.