Published 26 October 2017

Interknit keeps knitwear local

I write this article in the week the very last Holden factory shut down in Australia, another blow to local manufacturing. As a local clothing manufacturer we feel like an endangered species, facing an inevitable extinction. Full disclosure motivates me to let our dear wool loving readers know that there are ZERO commercial wool fleece spinning and dying plants left in Australia, they became extinct in this past decade. The ones we used to use have either closed completely or become importers of the same product. If you know of one – please contact us, we’d love to have our yarn sourced locally, however my hope of finding a hidden gem or new start up fades with every passing month.

Shonky marketing has always disturbed me. GMO free labels on chicken eggs and gluten free labels on water bottles to name a couple. While being accurate, these labels are also somewhat misleading, if only by omission. There’s no such thing as a genetically modified chicken egg and water is naturally gluten free.

I think growing up in Australia you do learn to trust advertising more than you should. I was a huge fan of the Australian Made campaign as a teen and looked for that little green and yellow triangle everywhere. I assumed the triangle was an award for companies who proved every step of their process was local and I wanted to support them. I’m a little older and wiser now and found that like the examples above, the Australian Made logo can sometimes become misleading, again by omission.

Firstly, you actually don’t have to have exclusively local components to earn that triangle. For example, Interknit qualifies for the logo despite our wool yarn being imported. Secondly, even once you’ve qualified you need to pay annual subscription fees well above the level struggling local manufacturers can afford. Interknit used to subscribe to the campaign until the Global Financial Crisis hit our industry hard and annual renewal fees (plus purchasing the labels from the campaign) became cost prohibitive. Our competitors started outsourcing the manufacturing process overseas, while we continued to manufacture locally, but without the label.

I’m not against the campaign in general, however it does seem to reward those companies with greater profits and exclude the Aussie battlers and small family businesses, which goes against our Aussie spirit and contributes to the decline in manufacturing locally.

Here’s the deal – our Australian Merino Wool is 100% grown on our shores, ethically and by farmers (another battling industry) who care deeply for the welfare of their flock. Come shearing time, it’s packaged up and exported by the farmers, in our case, to India. There it is spun and often dyed (or sent natural) before being returned to Australia by our importing by the kilogram, which you might imagine is not a cheap process and increases the carbon footprint of our garments. So is it really Australian made? If we have no choice in the matter of spinning then I suppose it is. And more importantly, why did all the local commercial spinners close down? How can it not be cheaper per kilogram of yarn to buy from our own country that would ensure workers are paid a fair wage, than to import our original product across half the globe with all the government and transport fees that entails?

There are a few small spinning and dying plants catering to a homemade type market however they can’t handle our order quantities. They sell small quantities of often organically spun yarn to a niche market. There are also dying plants we use locally to turn natural wool yarn into the vibrant knitwear you see in our store – shout out to Geelong Dyeing here – however they don’t have facilities to spin wool fleece into wool yarn. If I had a dollar for every time we were asked why we don’t use Creswick Woollen Mills for our yarn we could buy two subscriptions in the Australian Made Campaign. Truth is, they don’t even spin enough yarn commercially for their own products and openly admit to overseas manufacturing and fibre sourcing in order to ensure they remain viable.

We’d love the support of the Australian public to bring commercial wool spinning back to our shores. Demand creates supply, it always has. To help, please turn away from fast fashion and support your local small businesses, especially the manufacturers. When your local businesses thrive it will create a demand for more locally made products and we may even be able to revive an almost dead industry in Australia. – M