Or: 'When marketing overcomes all authenticity.'
–by Ben Kepes
There's been a lot of recent media attention given to a New Zealand fashion brand that has been selling, for a number of years, t-shirts made in Bangladeshi sweat shops factories that have swingtags on them proudly stating “Fabrique en Nouvelle-Zelande" (Made in New Zealand).
Apparently, the owner of the brand justifies the statement, saying that since the swingtags themselves are made in New Zealand, there is nothing factually incorrect about the statement. The owner is (how ironically) a vociferous defender of New Zealand manufacturing, and has regularly chastised those who don’t meet her purported standards.
Welcome to the post-truth era.
Actually, it is a little complex. I'm a shareholder in Cactus Outdoor, a 25-year old company that manufactures backpacks and apparel here in New Zealand and sells it all around the world. All of our products are lovingly sewn in our own factory, and other independently owned third-party factories, here in New Zealand. We are proudly New Zealand owned and operated, and are proud that we keep many skilled people gainfully employed. Our customers love the fact that our products do what we say they will, and are happy to pay what are, to be fair, quite high prices, in order to receive a product that will give them many, many years of dependable service. 'Fast fashion' we certainly ain’t.
Alas, over the last couple of decades, the apparel industry in New Zealand has been decimated and, whereas in the past there used to be textile mills in every decent-sized town, today there are almost no fabrics made here in New Zealand (other than some merino ones, like Nuyarn, which Cactus uses). Cactus has no options, therefore, but to source some fabrics from overseas. The same goes for buckles and zips etc. So, yes, many of our raw materials come from outside of New Zealand.
But I reiterate, our products are made in New Zealand. We don’t import sewn t-shirts, sew a patch on them locally and call that NZ-made. We don’t try and get away with bunging a locally printed swingtag on the t-shirts that says "Made in New Zealand" on it, and hoping no one notices the "Made in Bangladesh" tag surreptitiously sewn into the hem. From our perspective, if you’re an apparel company and your product is sewn in New Zealand – you’re New Zealand made.
The example World has set is unscrupulous. L’estrange Corbet, World’s founder, has for years waxed poetic about New Zealand manufacturing, and harshly criticised others for moving offshore. All the while she has been duplicitously leading her customers astray.
Claiming a swingtag that is printed in New Zealand justifies an NZ-Made moniker is offensive to her customers, her competitors and the entire local business community. It is also, I believe, a very real breach of the Fair Trading Act and undoubtedly constitutes misleading and deceptive conduct.
While I totally disagree with L’estrange Corbet’s claim that World simply couldn’t make t-shirts in New Zealand (for the record, Cactus does without any problems), my biggest issue is with the lack of truth in what she tells her customers. Apparently, L’estrange Corbet thinks of her customers in the way McDonald’s thinks of theirs – as mere waiting mouths, to fill with products that satisfy a short-term whim, but leave no sense of being sated. Apparently, she has no respect for her customers or their belief about what her product is.
It’s a massive shame, and a sad reflection on this modern, post-truth era.
Luckily there are still brands that are prepared to be up-front and honest, and who are authentic to their ideals.