Australian fashion company hits Paris catwalk but struggles at home
This is not the place to find the beginnings of couture fashion.
Melbourne Textile Knitting is located in a suburban industrial area, almost indistinguishable from the factories around it.
But it’s inside where the magic happens.
Fabrics made here end up on catwalks in Paris, Milan and New York.
“We work with many of the iconic French labels,” says business owner Stephen Morris Moody.
Brands such as Chanel and Balenciaga of the type that prefer non-disclosure agreements.
“Yeah you said, I didn’t,” he laughs.
“Sometimes I still pinch myself when I see our stuff on the catwalks in Europe: ‘Oh my god, I have a very small niche business in Melbourne and I have an iconic label all over the world. We are selling to
Many Australian and US labels also buy the company’s knits.
But this is a difficult business. Not because there is no demand, but because there is too much demand, coupled with devastating trade tariffs and scarce skilled labor.
‘Skilled workers are in short supply’
Much of the Australian made fashion industry is feeling the pain.
Demand for Australian-made clothing has surged by 400% in the last two years. We realized that this was the only way to quickly have inventory for the label to sell.
Manufacturers can’t keep up: They’re telling major Australian brands they can’t make clothes here.
‘The problem is that there aren’t enough skilled workers in the industry,’ explains Layla Naja Hibri, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Fashion Council.
Skilled immigration has come to a halt during the pandemic, and none of the 82 occupations listed as government-funded apprenticeships have become fashionable.
“I mean, I’m surprised there’s no apprenticeship or training program,” she said.
“The industry exports twice as much as beer and wine combined, creates more jobs than utilities and mining, and is a $27.2 billion industry employing about 489,000 people in Australia. It has long been forgotten.”
There are some encouraging signs from the new federal government. It has pledged to review the way funding for apprenticeships is determined.
“The fact that there are some occupations that are not on the list is a concern to me,” Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor told ABC’s 7.30.
“Here we have an opportunity to provide our skills and labor to employers who want to manufacture clothing here.”
“I wish I could find more people.”
Morris-Moody can’t wait to see if and when that happens.
His chief knitting technician, Joseph Belka, wants to retire.
“There are only a handful of people in Australia who know how to use these machines and they are all nearing retirement,” he explains.
Textile student Jason Rappetti asked for a job at just the right time. For the past year and a half, he has been Josef’s apprentice, learning how to use and repair these intricate machines.
Without government support, it will be expensive, but it is the only option.
“He’s young, he’s conscientious…and we were just lucky to find him,” Morris Moody said.
“He’s doing great. I wish I could find more people like him. But honestly, I don’t even know where to look.
“I think people don’t see a future in our industry because we’re doing really great things. It’s a shame.
“And with a little more support, if our actions are recognized, there is a future.”